\\ hy and How
lhcodore John Kaczvnski
WHY AND HOW
WHY AND HOW
THEODORE JOHN KACZYNSKI
FITCH & MADISON
Copyright © 2015 by Theodore John Kaczynski
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Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kaczynski, Theodore John, 1942- author.
Anti-tech revolution : why and how / Theodore John
Kaczynski. — First edition,
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Technology—Social aspects. 2. Technology and
civilization. 3. Revolutions—History.
4. Environmental degradation. 5. Nature—Effect of human
beings on. 6. Social action. I. Title.
Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every continent,
and left free, it would be better than it now is.
The epigraph is from Jefferson’s letter to William Short, January 1793,
quoted by David N[cC\A\ou$\, John Adams, Simon 8c Schuster, New York,
2002, p. 438.
Chapter One. The Development of a Society Can Never Be Subject to
Rational Human Control
Part I. 7
Part II . 13
Part V. 29
Part VI. 31
Chapter Two. Why the Technological System Will Destroy Itself
Part II . 42
Part V. 68
Chapter Three. How to Transform a Society: Errors to Avoid
Part II . 92
Chapter Four. Strategic Guidelines for an Anti-Tech Movement
Section 1. 135
Section 2. 136
Section 3. 136
Section 4. 137
Section 5. 138
Section 6. 138
Section 7. 139
Section 8. 142
Section 9. 143
Section 10. 145
Section 11. 148
Section 12. 149
Section 13. 153
Section 14. 154
Section 15. 154
Section 16. 155
Section 17. 155
Section 18. 156
Section 19. 158
Section 20. 159
Section 21. 161
Section 22. 162
Section 23. 166
Section 24. 166
Section 25. 167
Section 26. 168
Section 27. 169
Section 28. 170
Section 29. 171
Section 30. 174
Appendix One. In Support of Chapter One
Part A. 187
Part B. 187
Part C. 189
Part D. 191
Appendix Two. In Support of Chapter Two
Part A. 193
Part B. 195
Part C. 196
Part D. 197
Appendix Three. Stay on Target.209
Appendix Four. The Long-Term Outcome of Geo-Engineering. 215
List of Works Cited. 219
I. There are many people today who see that modern society is head¬
ing toward disaster in one form or another, and who moreover recognize
technology as the common thread linking the principal dangers that hang
over us. 1 Nearly all such people fall into one of two categories:
First, there are those who are appalled at what technology is doing
to our society and our planet, but are not motivated to take any action
against the technological system because they feel helpless to accomplish
anything in that direction. They read an anti-tech book—say, for example,
Jacques Ellul’s Technological Society —and it makes them feel better because
they’ve found someone who has eloquently articulated their own anxieties
about technology. But the effect soon wears off and their discomfort with
the technological world begins to nag them again, so they turn for relief
to another anti-tech book—Ivan Illich, Kirkpatrick Sale, Daniel Quinn,
my own Industrial Society and Its Future, or something else—and the cycle
repeats itself. In other words, for these people anti-tech literature is merely
a kind of therapy: It alleviates their discomfort with technology, but it does
not serve them as a call to action.
In the second category are people who are appalled at modern
technology and actually aspire to accomplish something against the tech¬
nological system, but have no practical sense of how to go about it. At a
purely tactical\zve\ some of these people may have excellent practical sense;
they may know very well, for example, how to organize a demonstration
against some particular atrocity that is being committed against our envi¬
ronment. But when it comes to grand strategy 2 they are at a loss. Most
perhaps recognize that any victory against an environmental atrocity or
other technology-related evil can only be temporary, at best, as long as the
technological system remains in existence. But they can think of noth¬
ing better to do than to continue attacking particular evils while vaguely
hoping that their work will somehow help to solve the overall problem of
technology. In reality their work is counterproductive, because it distracts
attention from the technological system itself as the underlying source of
the evils and leads people to focus instead on problems of limited signifi¬
cance that moreover cannot be permanently solved while the technological
system continues to exist.
The purpose of this book is to show people how to begin thinking
in practical, grand-strategic terms aboutwhat must be done in order to get
our society off the road to destruction that it is now on.
On the basis of past experience I feel safe in saying that virtually all
people—even people of exceptional intelligence—who merely read this
book once or twice at an ordinary pace will miss many of its most import¬
ant points. This book, therefore, is not a book to be read\ it is a book to be
studied with the same care that one would use in studying, for example, a
textbook of engineering. There is of course a difference between this book
and a textbook of engineering. An engineering textbook provides precise
rules which, if followed mechanically, will consistently give the expected
results. But no such precise and reliable rules are possible in the social
sciences. The ideas in this book therefore need to be applied thoughtfully
and creatively, not mechanically or rigidly. Intelligent application of the
ideas will be greatly facilitated by a broad knowledge of history and some
understanding of how societies develop and change.
II. This book represents only a part, though the most important
part, of a longer work that I hope to publish later. I’ve been anxious to get
the most important part of the work into print as soon as possible, because
the growth of technology and the destruction of our environment move
at an ever-accelerating rate, and the time to begin organizing for action
is—as soon as possible. Moreover, I’m 72 years old, and I could be put out
of action at any time by some medical misfortune, so I want to get the most
important material into print while I can.
The entire work—the part published here together with the parts
that at present exist only in the form of imperfect drafts—goes far beyond
my earlier works, Industrial Society and Its Future and Technological Slavery ,
and it represents the more-or-less final result of a lifetime of thought and
reading—during the last thirty-five years, intensive thought and specifically
purposeful reading. The factual basis of the work is drawn primarily from
my reading over all those years, and especially from the reading I’ve done
since 1998 while confined in a federal prison. As of 2011, however, there
remained important loose ends that needed to be tied up, gaps that needed
to be filled in, and I’ve been able to tie up those loose ends and fill in those
gaps only with the generous help of several people outside the prison who
have delved for the information I’ve requested and have answered almost all
of the questions—sometimes very difficult questions—that I’ve asked them.
My thanks are owing above all to Susan Gale. Susan has played the
key role in this project and has been indispensable. She has been my star
researcher, producing more results and solving more problems, by far, than
anyone else; she has ably coordinated the work of other researchers and has
done most of the typing.
After Susan, the most important person in this project has been Dr.
Julie Ault. Julie has read drafts of the various chapters and has called my
attention to many weak points in the exposition. I’ve tried to correct these,
though I haven’t been able to correct all of them to my (or, I assume, her)
satisfaction. In addition, Julie has provided valuable advice on manuscript
preparation . 3 But most important of all has been the encouragement I’ve
taken from the fact of having an intellectual heavyweight like Julie Ault
on my side.
Several people other than Susan have made important research con¬
tributions through steady work over a period of time: Brandon Manwell,
Deborah_, G. G. Gomez, Valerie vE_, and one other person whose
name will not be mentioned here. Patrick S_and another person, who
prefers not to be named, have provided critically important financial support
and have been helpful in other ways as well.
The foregoing are the people who have made major contributions to
the project, but I owe thanks also to nine other people whose contributions
have been of lesser magnitude: Blake Janssen, Jon H_, and Philip R_
each dug up several pieces of information for me; Lydia Eccles, Dr. David
Skrbina, Isumatag (pseudonym), and Ultimo Reducto (pseudonym) have
called my attention to information or sent me copies of articles that I’ve
found useful; Lydia has also performed other services, and an assistant of
Dr. Skrbina’s typed early drafts of Chapter Three and Appendix Three. On
the legal front, I owe thanks to two attorneys for their pro-bono assistance:
Nancy J. Flint, who took care of copyright registration, and Edward T.
Ramey, whose intervention removed a bureaucratic obstacle to the prepa¬
ration of this book.
My thanks to all!
III. Despite the generous help I’ve received, I’ve had to make use
at many points of sources of information that are of doubtful reliability;
for example, media reports (all too often irresponsible!) or encyclopedia
articles, which, because of their necessary brevity, commonly give only
sketchy accounts of the subjects they cover. None of the individuals named
above are in any way responsible for the resulting defects of this book. It
is only since 2011 that I’ve had people who have been willing and able to
spend substantial amounts of time and effort in doing research for me,
and all of them have had to carry on simultaneously with other necessary
aspects of their lives, such as earning a living. If I had asked them to find
solid authority for every piece of information for which I’ve relied on a
questionable source, the completion of this book would have been delayed
for a matter of years. I do not believe that my use of questionable sources
of information will be found to weaken significantly the arguments or the
conclusions that I offer in this book. Even if some of the bits of information
I’ve cited turn out to be false, inaccurate, or misleading, the basic structure
of the book will remain sound.
IV. Note on referencing. In the notes that followeach chapter or appen¬
dix, I generally cite sources of information by giving the author’s last name
and a page number. The reader can find the author’s full name, the title
of the book or article cited, the date of publication, and other necessary
information by looking up the author’s name in the List of Works Cited
that appears at the end of the book. When a source without named author
is cited, the reader will in some cases be able to find additional information
about the source by consulting the list of works without named author that
concludes the List of Works Cited.
Two abbreviations are used repeatedly in the notes:
“ISAIF” refers to my Industrial Society and Its Future , of which only
one correct version has been published in English; it appears on pages
36-120 of my book Technological Slavery (Feral House, 2010).
“NEB” means The New Encyclopaedia Britannic a, Fifteenth Edition.
The Fifteenth Edition has been modified repeatedly, so “NEB” is always
followed by a date in parentheses that indicates the particular version of
NEB that is cited. For example, “NEB (2003)” means the version of The
New Encyclopaedia Britannica that bears the copyright date 2003.
1. I’ve received many letters from such people, not only from within the
United States but from a score of countries around the world.
2. “Tactics,” “strategy,” and “grand strategy” are, in origin at least, military
terms. Tactics are techniques used for the immediate purpose of winning a par¬
ticular battle; strategy deals with broader issues and longer intervals of time, and
includes advance preparations for winning a battle or a series of battles; grand
strategy addresses the entire process of achieving a nation’s objectives through
warfare, and takes into account not only the strictly military aspect of the process
but also the political, psychological, economic, etc. factors involved. See, e.g.,
NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “War, Theory and Conduct of,” p. 647. The terms “tactics,”
“strategy,” and “grand strategy” are used by analogy in contexts that have nothing
to do with warfare or the military.
3. For reasons connected with the need to get the manuscript for the present
work prepared quickly, I’ve disregarded some of Julie Ault’s recommendations
concerning manuscript preparation. Needless to say, Julie is in no way responsible
for any resulting defects that may be found in this book.
The Development of a Society
Can Never Be Subject to Rational
Adonde un bien se concierta
hay un mal que lo desvia;
mas el bien viene y no acierta,
y el mal acierta y porfia.
—Diego Hurtado de Mendoza
The wider the scope of my reflection on the present and the
past, the more am I impressed by their mockery of human
plans in every transaction.
I. In specific contexts in which abundant empirical evidence is
available, fairly reliable short-term prediction and control of a society’s
behavior may be possible. For example, economists can predict some of the
immediate consequences for a modern industrial society of a rise or a fall
in the interest rates. Hence, by raising or lowering interest rates they can
manipulate such variables as the levels of inflation and of unemployment. 3
Indirect consequences are harder to predict, and prediction of the conse¬
quences of more elaborate financial manipulations is largely guesswork.
That’s why the economic policies of the U.S. government are subject to
so much controversy: No one knows for certain what the consequences of
those policies really are.
Outside of contexts in which abundant empirical evidence is avail¬
able, or when longer-term effects are at issue, successful prediction—and
therefore successful management of a society’s development—is far more
difficult. In fact, failure is the norm.
• During the first half of the second century BC, sumptuary laws
(laws intended to limit conspicuous consumption) were enacted in an effort
to forestall the incipient decadence of Roman society. As is usual with sump¬
tuary laws, these failed to have the desired effect, and the decay of Roman
mores continued unchecked. 4 By the early first century BC, Rome had
become politically unstable. With the help of soldiers under his command,
Lucius Cornelius Sulla seized control of the city, physically exterminated
the opposition, and carried out a comprehensive program of reform that
was intended to restore stable government. But Sulla’s intervention only
made the situation worse, because he had killed off the “defenders oflawful
government” and had filled the Senate with unscrupulous men “whose tra¬
dition was the opposite of that sense of mission and public service that had
animated the best of the aristocracy.” 5 Consequently the Roman political
system continued to unravel, and by the middle of the first century BC
Rome’s traditional republican government was essentially defunct.
• In Italy during the 9th century AD certain kings promulgated
laws intended to limit the oppression and exploitation of peasants by the
aristocracy. “The laws proved futile, however, and aristocratic landowning
and political dominance continued to grow.” 6
• Simon Bolivar was the principal leader of the revolutions through
which Spain’s American colonies achieved their independence. He had
hoped and expected to establish stable and “enlightened” government
throughout Spanish America, but he made so little progress toward that
objective that he wrote in bitterness shortly before his death in 1830: “He
who serves a revolution plows the sea.” Bolivar went on to predict that
Spanish America would “infallibly fall into the hands of the unrestrained
multitude to pass afterward to those of... petty tyrants of all races and
colors... [We will be] devoured by all crimes and extinguished by ferocity
[so that] the Europeans will not deign to conquer us... .” 7 Allowing for a
good deal of exaggeration attributable to the emotion under which Bolivar
wrote, this prediction held (roughly) true for a century and a half after his
death. But notice that Bolivar did not arrive at this prediction until too
late; and that it was a very general prediction that asserted nothing specific.
• In the United States during the late 19th century there were
worker-housing projects sponsored by a number of individual philan¬
thropists and housing reformers. Their objective was to show that
Chapter One: Part I
efforts to improve the living conditions of workers could be combined
with... profits of 5 percent annually. ...
Reformers believed that the model dwellings would set a stan¬
dard that other landlords would be forced to meet... mostly because
of the workings of competition. Unfortunately, this solution to the
housing problem did not take hold... . The great mass of urban work¬
ers. .. were crowded into... tenements that operated solely for profit. 8
It is not apparent that there has been any progress over the centuries
in the capacity of humans to guide the development of their societies.
Relatively recent (post-1950) efforts in this direction may seem superficially
to be more sophisticated than those of earlier times, but they do not appear
to be more successful.
• The social reform programs of the mid-1960s in the United States,
spearheaded by President Lyndon Johnson, revealed that beliefs about the
causes and cures of such social problems as crime, drug abuse, poverty,
and slums had little validity. For example, according to one disappointed
Once upon a time we thought that if we could only get our problem
families out of those dreadful slums, then papa would stop taking
dope, mama would stop chasing around, and junior would stop car¬
rying a knife. Well, we’ve got them in a nice new apartment with
modern kitchens and a recreation center. And they’re the same bunch
of bastards they always were. 9
This doesn’t mean that all of the reform programs were total fail¬
ures, but the general level of success was so low as to indicate that the
reformers did not understand the workings of society well enough to know
what should be done to solve the social problems that they addressed.
Where they achieved some modest level of success they probably did so
mainly through luck. 10
One could go on and on citing examples like the foregoing ones.
One could also cite many examples of efforts to control the development
of societies in which the immediate goals of the efforts have been achieved.
But in such cases the longer-term consequences for society as a whole have
not been what the reformers or revolutionaries have expected or desired. 11
• The legislation of the Athenian statesman Solon (6th century
BC) was intended to abolish hektemorage (roughly equivalent to serfdom)
in Attica while allowing the aristocracy to retain most of its wealth and
privilege. In this respect the legislation was successful. But it also had
unexpected consequences that Solon surely would not have approved. The
liberation of the “serfs” resulted in a labor shortage thatled the Athenians to
purchase or capture numerous slaves from outside Attica, so that Athens was
transformed into a slave society. Another indirect consequence of Solon’s
legislation was the Peisistratid “tyranny” (populist dictatorship) that ruled
Athens during a substantial part of the 6th century BC. 12
• Otto von Bismarck, one of the most brilliant statesmen in
European history, had an impressive list of successes to his credit. Among
—He achieved the unification of Germany in 1867-1871.
—He engineered the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, but his suc¬
cessful efforts for peace thereafter earned him the respect of European
—He successfully promoted the industrialization of Germany.
—By such means he won for the monarchy the support of the middle
—Thus Bismarck achieved his most important objective: He pre¬
vented (temporarily) the democratization of Germany.
—Though Bismarck was forced to resign in 1890, the political struc¬
ture he had established for Germany lasted until 1918, when it was brought
down by the German defeat in World War I. 13
Notwithstanding his remarkable successes Bismarck felt that he had
failed, and in 1898 he died an embittered old man. 14 Clearly, Germany
was not going the way he had intended. Probably it was the resumption of
Germany’s slow drift toward democratization that angered him most. But
his bitterness would have been deeper if he had foreseen the future. One
can only speculate as to what the history of Germany might have been after
1890 if Bismarck hadn’t led the country up to that date, but it is certain
that he did not succeed in putting Germany on a course leading to results
of which he would have approved; for Bismarck would have been horrified
by the disastrous war of 1914-18, by Germany’s defeat in it, and above all
by the subsequent rise of Adolf Hitler.
• In the United States, reformers’ zeal led to the enactment in 1919
of “Prohibition” (prohibition of the manufacture, sale, or transportation
Chapter One: Part I
of alcoholic beverages) as a constitutional amendment. Prohibition was
partly successful in achieving its immediate objective, for it did decrease
the alcohol consumption of the “lower” classes and reduce the incidence of
alcohol-related diseases and deaths; it moreover “eradicated the saloon.” On
the other hand, it provided criminal gangs with opportunities to make huge
profits through the smuggling and/or the illicit manufacture of alcoholic
drinks; thus Prohibition greatly promoted the growth of organized crime.
In addition, it tended to corrupt otherwise respectable people who were
tempted to purchase the illegal beverages. It became clear that Prohibition
was a serious mistake, and it was repealed through another constitutional
amendment in 1933. 15
• The so-called “Green Revolution” of the latter part of the 20th
century—the introduction of new farming technologies and of recently
developed, highly productive varieties of grain—was supposed to allevi¬
ate hunger in the Third World by providing more abundant harvests. It
did indeed provide more abundant harvests. But: “[Ajlthough the ‘Green
Revolution’ seems to have been a success as far as the national total cereal
production figures are concerned, a look at it from the perspective of
communities and individual humans indicates that the problems have far
outweighed the successes... ,” 16 In some parts of the world the conse¬
quences of the Green Revolution have been nothing short of catastrophic.
For example, in the Punjab (a region lying partly in India and partly in
Pakistan), the Green Revolution has ruined “thousands of hectares of [for¬
merly] productive land,” and has led to severe lowering of the water table,
contamination of the water with pesticides and fertilizers, numerous cases
of cancer (probably due to the contaminated water), and many suicides.
‘“The green revolution has brought us only downfall,’ says Jarnail Singh... .
‘It ruined our soil, our environment, our water table. Used to be we had
fairs in villages where people would come together and have fun. Now we
gather in medical centers.’” 17
From other parts of the world as well come reports of negative con¬
sequences, of varying degrees of severity, that have followed the Green
Revolution. These consequences include economic, behavioral, and medical
effects in addition to environmental damage (e.g., desertification). 18
• In 1953, U.S. President Eisenhower announced an “Atoms for
Peace” program according to which the nations of the world were sup¬
posed to pool nuclear information and materials under the auspices of an
international agency. In 1957 the International Atomic Energy Agency
was established to promote the peaceful uses of atomic energy, and in
1968 the United Nations General Assembly approved a “non-proliferation”
treaty under which signatories agreed not to develop nuclear weapons and
in return were given nuclear technology that they were supposed to use
only for peaceful purposes. 19 The people involved in this effort should have
known enough history to realize that nations generally abide by treaties
only as long as they consider it in their own (usually short-term) interest
to do so, which commonly is not very long. But apparently the assumption
was that the nations receiving nuclear technology would be so grateful, and
so happy cooperating in its peaceful application, that they would forever
put aside the aspirations for power and the bitter rivalries that throughout
history had led to the development of increasingly destructive weapons.
This idea seems to have originated with scientists like Robert
Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr who had helped to create the first atomic
bomb. 20 That physicists would come up with something so naive was only
to be expected, since specialists in the physical sciences almost always
are grossly obtuse about human affairs. It seems surprising, however, that
experienced politicians would act upon such an idea. But then, politicians
often do things for propaganda purposes and not because they really believe
The “Atoms for Peace” idea worked fine—for a while. Some 140
nations signed the non-proliferation treaty in 1968 (others later), 21 and
nuclear technology was spread around the world. Iran, in the early 1970s,
was one of the countries that received nuclear technology from the U.S. 22
And the nations receiving such technology didn’t try to use it to develop
nuclear weapons. Not immediately , anyway. Of course, we know what has
happened since then. “[H]ard-nosed politicians and diplomats [e.g., Henry
Kissinger],. .argue that proliferation of nuclear weapons is fast approaching
a ‘tipping point’ beyond which it will be impossible to check their spread.”
These “veterans of America’s cold-war security establishment with impec¬
cable credentials as believers in nuclear deterrence” now claim that such
weapons “ha[ve] become a source of intolerable risk.” 23 And there is the
inconvenient fact that the problem of safe disposal of radioactive waste from
th e.peaceful uses of nuclear energy still has not been solved. 24
The “Atoms for Peace” fiasco suggests that humans’ capacity to con¬
trol the development of their societies not only has failed to progress, but
has actually retrogressed. Neither Solon nor Bismarckwould have supported
anything as stupid as “Atoms for Peace.”
Chapter One: Part II
II. There are good reasons why humans’ capacity to control the
development of their societies has failed to progress. In order to control
the development of a society you would have to be able to predict how the
society would react to any given action you might take, and such predic¬
tions have generally proven to be highly unreliable. Human societies are
complex systems—technologically advanced societies are most decidedly
complex—and prediction of the behavior of complex systems presents dif¬
ficulties that are not contingent on the present state of our knowledge or
our level of technological development.
[UJnintended consequences [are] a well-known problem with the
design and use of technology... . The cause of many [unintended con¬
sequences] seems clear: The systems involved are complex, involving
interaction among and feedback between many parts. Any changes
to such a system will cascade in ways that are difficult to predict; this
is especially true when human actions are involved. 25
Problems in economics can give us some idea of how impossibly
difficult it would be to predict or control the behavior of a system as com¬
plex as that of a modern human society. It is convincingly argued that a
modern economy can never be rationally planned to maximize efficiency,
because the task of carrying out such planning would be too overwhelmingly
complex. 26 Calculation of a rational system of prices for the U.S. economy
alone would require manipulation of a conservatively estimated 6xl0 13
(sixty trillion!) simultaneous equations. 27 That takes into account only the
economic factors involved in establishing prices and leaves out the innu¬
merable psychological, sociological, political, etc., factors that continuously
interact with the economy.
Even if we make the wildly improbable assumption that the behav¬
ior of our society could be predicted through the manipulation of, say,
a million trillion simultaneous equations and that sufficient computing
power to conduct such manipulation were available, collection of the data
necessary for insertion of the appropriate numbers into the equations would
be impracticable, 28 especially since the data would have to meet impossibly
high standards of precision if the predictions were expected to remain
valid over any considerable interval of time. Edward Lorenz, a meteo¬
rologist, was the first to call widespread attention to the fact that even
the most minute inaccuracy in the data provided can totally invalidate a
prediction about the behavior of a complex system. This fact came to be
called the “butterfly effect” because in 1972, at a meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, Lorenz gave a talk that he
titled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off
a Tornado in Texas?” 29 Lorenz’s work is said to have been the inspiration
for the development of what is called “chaos theory” 30 —the butterfly effect
being an example of “chaotic” behavior.
Chaotic behavior is not limited to complex systems; in fact, some
surprisingly simple systems can behave chaotically. 31 The Encyclopaedia
Britannica illustrates this with a purely mathematical example. Let A and
x 0 be any two given numbers with 0<A<4 and 0<x 0 <l, and let a sequence of
numbers be generated according to the formula x n+1 =Ax n (l -xj. For certain
values of A, e.g., A=3.7, the sequence behaves chaotically: In order to bring
about a linear increase in the number of terms of the sequence that one can
predict to a reasonable approximation, one needs to achieve an exponential
improvement in the accuracy of one’s estimate of x<). In other words, in order
to predict the nth term of the sequence, one needs to know the value of x 0
with an error not exceeding 10 kn , k a constant. 32 This is characteristic of
chaotic systems generally: Any small extension of the range of prediction
requires an exponential improvement in the accuracy of the data.
[A] 11 chaotic systems share the property that every extra place of
decimals in one’s knowledge of the starting point only pushes the
horizon [of predictability] a small distance away. In practical terms,
the horizon of predictability is an impassable barrier. ... [OJnce it
becomes clear how many systems are sufficiently nonlinear to be
considered for chaos, it has to be recognized that prediction may be
limited to short stretches set by the horizon of predictability. Full
comprehension... must frequently remain a tentative process... with
frequent recourse to observation and experiment in the event that
prediction and reality have diverged too far. 33
It should be noted that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sets an
absolute limit to the precision of data used for the prediction of physical
phenomena. This principle, which implies that certain events involving
subatomic particles are unpredictable, is inferred mathematically from other
known laws of physics; hence, successful prediction at the subatomic level
would entail violations of the laws of physics. If a prediction about the
Chapter One: Part II
behavior of a macroscopic system requires data so precise that their accuracy
can be disturbed by events at the subatomic level, then no reliable prediction
is possible. Hence, for a chaotic physical system, there is a point beyond
which the horizon of predictability can never be extended.
Of course, the behavior of a human society is not in every respect
chaotic; there are empirically observable historical trends that can last for
centuries or millennia. But it is wildly improbable that a modern techno¬
logical society could be free of all chaotic subsystems whose behavior is
capable of affecting the society as a whole, so it is safe to assume that the
development of a modern society is necessarily chaotic in at least some
respects and therefore unpredictable.
This doesn’t mean that no predictions at all are possible. In reference
to weather forecasting the Britannica writes:
It is highly probable that atmospheric movements... are in a state
of chaos. If so, there can be little hope of extending indefinitely the
range of weather forecasting except in the most general terms. There
are clearly certain features of climate, such as annual cycles of tem¬
perature and rainfall, which are exempt from the ravages of chaos.
Other large-scale processes may still allow long-range prediction,
but the more detail one asks for in a forecast, the sooner it will lose
its validity. 34
Much the same can be said of the behavior of human society (though
human society is far more complex even than the weather). In some con¬
texts, reasonably reliable and specific short-term predictions can be made,
as we noted above in reference to the relationship between interest rates,
inflation, and unemployment. Long-term predictions of an imprecise and
nonspecific character are often possible; we’ve already mentioned Bolivar’s
correct prediction of the failure of stable and “enlightened” government in
Spanish America. (Here it is well to note that predictions that something
will not work can generally be made with greater confidence than predic¬
tions that something will work. 35 ) But reliable long-term predictions that
are at all specific can seldom be made.
There are exceptions. Moore’s Law makes a specific prediction about
the rate of growth of computing power, and as of 2012 the law has held
true for some fifty years. 36 But Moore’s Law is not an inference derived
from an understanding of society, it is simply a description of an empirically
observed trend, and no one knows how long the trend will continue. The
law may have predictable consequences for many areas of technology, but
no one knows in any specific way how all this technology will interact with
society as a whole. Though Moore’s Law and other empirically observed
trends may play a useful role in attempts to foresee the future, it remains
true that any effort to understand the development of our society must (to
borrow the Britannicas phrases) “remain a tentative process... with frequent
recourse to observation and experiment... .”
But just in case someone declines to assume that our society includes
any important chaotic components, let’s suppose for the sake of argument
that the development of society could in principle be predicted through
the solution of some stupendous system of simultaneous equations and
that the necessary numerical data at the required level of precision could
actually be collected. No one will claim that the computing power required
to solve such a system of equations is currently available. But let’s assume
that the unimaginably vast computing power predicted by Ray Kurzweil 37
will become a reality for some future society, and let’s suppose that such a
quantity of computing power would be capable of handling the enormous
complexity of th t present society and predicting its development over some
substantial interval of time. It does not follow that a future society of that
kind would have sufficient computing power to predict its own develop¬
ment, for such a society necessarily would be incomparably more complex
than the present one: The complexity of a society will grow right along
with its computing power, because the society’s computational devices are
part of the society.
There are in fact certain paradoxes involved in the notion of a system
that predicts its own behavior. These are reminiscent of Russell’s Paradox
in set theory 38 and of the paradoxes that arise when one allows a statement
to talk about itself (e.g., consider the statement, “This statement is false”).
When a system makes a prediction about its own behavior, that predic¬
tion may itself change the behavior of the system, and the change in the
behavior of the system may invalidate the prediction. Of course, not every
statement that talks about itself is paradoxical. For example, the statement,
“This statement is in the English language” makes perfectly good sense.
Similarly, many predictions that a system may make about itself will not be
self-invalidating; they may even cause the system to behave in such away
as to fulfill the prediction. 39 But it is too much to hope for that a society’s
predictions about itself will never be (unexpectedly) self-invalidating.
Chapter One: Part III
A society’s ability to predict its own behavior moreover would seem to
require something like complete self-knowledge, and here too one runs into
paradoxes. We need not discuss these here; some thought should suffice to
convince the reader that any attempt to envision a system having complete
self-knowledge will encounter difficulties.
Thus, from several points ofview—past and present experience, com¬
plexity, chaos theory, and logical difficulties (paradoxes)—it is clear that
no society can accurately predict its own behavior over any considerable
span of time. Consequently, no society can be consistently successful in
planning its own future in the long term.
This conclusion is in no way unusual, surprising, or original. Astute
observers of history have known for a long time that a society can’t plan its
own future. Thus Thurston writes: “[N]o government has ever been able
physically to manage the total existence of a country, ... or to foresee all
the complications that would ensue from a decision made at the center.” 40
Heilbroner and Singer write: “Technology made America a ‘middle-
class’ nation. This process was not, of course, the outcome of anyone’s
decision. Like much of the economic history we have traced, it followed
from the blind workings of the market mechanism.” 41
Norbert Elias wrote: “[T]he actual course of... historical change as
a whole is intended and planned by no-one.” 42 And: “Civilization... is set
in motion blindly, and kept in motion by the autonomous dynamics of a
web of relationships... ,” 43
III. The expected answer to the foregoing will be: Even granting
that the behavior of a society is unpredictable in the long term, it may
nevertheless be possible to steer a society rationally by means of continual
short-term interventions. To take an analogy, if we let a car without a driver
roll down a rugged, irregular hillside, the only prediction we can make
is that the car will not follow any predetermined course but will bounce
around erratically. However, if the car has a driver, he may be able to steer
it so as to avoid the worst bumps and make it roll instead through relatively
smooth places. With a good deal of luck he may even be able to make the
car arrive approximately at a preselected point at the foot of the hill. For
these purposes the driver only needs to be able to predict very roughly how
far the car will veer to the right or to the left when he turns the steering
wheel. If the car veers too far or not far enough, he can correct with another
turn of the wheel.
Perhaps something similar could be done with an entire society. It
is conceivable that a combination of empirical studies with increasingly
sophisticated theory may eventually make possible fairly reliable short-term
predictions of the way a society will react to any given change—just as
fairly reliable short-term weather forecasting has become possible. Perhaps,
then, a society might be successfully steered by means of frequent, intelli¬
gent interventions in such a way that undesirable outcomes could usually
be avoided and some desirable outcomes achieved. The steering process
would not have to be infallible; errors could be corrected through further
interventions. Just possibly, one might even hope to succeed in steering a
society so that it would arrive in the long run at something approximating
one’s conception of a good society.
But this proposal too runs into difficulties of a fundamental kind.
The first problem is: Who decides what outcomes are desirable or undesir¬
able, or what kind of “good” society should be our long-term goal? There
is never anything resembling general agreement on the answers to such
questions. Friedrich Engels wrote in 1890:
History is made in such a way that the final result always arises from
the conflicts among many individual wills, each of which is made
into what it is by a multitude of special conditions of life; thus there
are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite collection of parallel¬
ograms of forces, and from them emerges a resultant—the historical
event—which from another point of view can be regarded as the
product of one power that, as a whole, operates unconsciously and
without volition. For what each individual wants runs up against the
opposition of every other, and what comes out of it all is something
that no one wanted. 44
Norbert Elias, who was not a Marxist, made a very similar remark:
[FJrom the interweaving of countless individual interests and inten¬
tions—whether tending in the same direction or in divergent and
hostile directions—something comes intobeingthatwas planned and
intended by none of these individuals, yet has emerged nevertheless
from their intentions and actions. 45
Chapter One: Part III
Even in those rare cases in which almost everyone agrees on a policy,
effective implementation of the policy may be prevented by what is called
the “problem of the commons.” The problem of the commons consists in
the fact that it may be to everyone’s advantage that everyone should act in
a certain way, yet it may be to the advantage of each individual to act in a
contrary way. 46 For example, in modern society it is to everyone’s advantage
that everyone should pay a portion of his income to support the functions
of government. Yet it is to the advantage of each individual to keep all his
income for himself, and that’s why hardly anyone pays taxes voluntarily,
or pays more than he has to.
The answer to the foregoing arguments will be that political institu¬
tions exist precisely in order to resolve such problems: The concrete decisions
made in the process of governing a society are not the resultant of conflicts
among the innumerable individual wills of the population at large; instead,
a small number of political leaders are formally empowered (through elec¬
tions or otherwise) to make necessary decisions for everyone, and to enact
laws that compensate for the problem of the commons by compelling indi¬
viduals to do what is required for the common welfare (for example, laws
that compel payment of taxes). Since the top political leaders are relatively
few in number, it is not unreasonable to hope that they can resolve their
differences well enough to steer the development of a society rationally.
Actually, experience shows that when the top politicalleaders number
more than, say, half a dozen or so, it must seriously be doubted whether
they can ever resolve their differences well enough to be able to govern in
a consistently rational way. But even where no conflicts exist among the
top leaders, the real power of such leaders is very much less than the power
that is formally assigned to them. Consequently, their ability to steer the
development of their society rationally is extremely limited at best.
When this writer was in the Sacramento County Main Jail in
1996-98, he had some interesting conversations with the jail adminis¬
trator, Lieutenant Dan Lewis. In the course of one such conversation, on
December 31,1996, Lewis complained that it was not easy to get some of his
officers to follow his orders, and he described the problems that a person in
a position of formal power faces when he tries to exert that power to make
his organization do what he wants it to do. If the leader takes measures
that are resented by too many of the people under his command, he will
meet with so much resistance that his organization will be paralyzed. 47
It’s not only jail administrators whose power is far more limited
than it appears to an outsider. Julius Caesar reportedly said, “The higher
our station, the less is our freedom of action.” 48 According to an English
author of the 17th century: “Men in great place (saith one) are thrice ser¬
vants; servants of the sovereign, or state; servants of fame; and servants of
business. So as they have no freedom, neither in their persons, nor in their
actions, nor in their times.” 49 U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote: “I
claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have
controlled me.” 50
While F.W. de Klerk was President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela
asked him why he did not prevent acts of violence that in some cases were
being carried out with the collusion of the police. De Klerk replied, “Mr.
Mandela, when you join me [as a member of the government] you will
realise I do not have the power which you think I have.” 51 It’s possible that
de Klerk was pleading powerlessness as an excuse for tolerating violence that
in reality he might have been able to prevent. Nevertheless, when Mandela
himself became President, he “quickly realized, as de Klerk had warned
him, that a President had less power than he appeared to. He could rule
effectively only through his colleagues and civil servants, who had to be
patiently persuaded... .” 52
In line with this, a thorough student of the American presidency,
Clinton Rossiter, has explained how severely the power of the President of
the United States is limited, not only by public opinion and by the power
of Congress, but also by conflicts with members of his own administration
who, in theory, are totally under his command. 53 Rossiter refers to “the trials
undergone by [Presidents] Truman and Eisenhower in persuading certain
chiefs of staff, whose official lives depend entirely on the President’s plea¬
sure, to shape their acts and speeches to the policies of the administration.” 54
One of our most powerful presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, complained:
The Treasury is so large and far-flung and ingrained in its practices
that I find it is almost impossible to get the actions and results I
want... . But the Treasury is not to be compared with the State
Department. You should go through the experience of trying to get
any changes in the thinking, policy and action of the career diplomats
and then you’d know what a real problem was. But the Treasury and
the State Department put together are nothing compared with the
Na-a-vy. The admirals are really something to cope with—and I
Chapter One: Part III
should know. To change anything in the Na-a-vy is like punching a
feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your
left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed
just as it was before you started punching. 55
Roosevelt’s capable successor in the presidency, Harry S. Truman, said:
[Pjeople talk about the powers of a President, all the powers that
a Chief Executive has, and what he can do. Let me tell you some¬
The President may have a great many powers given to him by
the Constitution and may have certain powers under certain laws
which are given to him by the Congress of the United States; but the
principal power that the President has is to bring people in and try
to persuade them to do what they ought to do without persuasion.
That’s what I spend most of my time doing. That’s what the powers
of the President amount to. 56
Thus, concentration of formal power in the hands of a few top lead¬
ers by no means liberates decision-making from Engels’s “conflicts among
many individual wills.” Some people may be surprised to learn that this
is true even in a society governed by a single, theoretically absolute ruler.
• From 200 BC to 1911 AD, all Chinese dynasties were headed by
an emperor who “was the state’s sole legislator, ultimate executive authority,
and highest judge. His pronouncements were, quite literally, the law, and
he alone was not bound by his own laws.” 57 The emperor was supposed
to be restrained by “Confucian norms and the values perpetuated by the
scholar-official elite,” 58 but in the absence of an explicit codification or
any mechanism for enforcement, these restraints were effective against the
emperor only to the extent that some of his subjects were brave enough to
challenge him on their own initiative, though the emperor, “if he insisted,
would prevail.” 59
More important, therefore, were the practical limitations to which
the emperor was subject. “As the head of a vast governmental apparatus...
he was... forced to delegate his powers to others who conducted the routine
operations of government... . Institutions inherited from previous dynasties
were the main vehicles through which he delegated political responsibili¬
ties,” for “in seeking alternatives to that immediate past, one had no models
outside of China to draw upon.” 60 Needless to say, the actual power wielded
by an emperor depended on the energy and ability of the individual who
occupied the office at any given time, 61 but it seems clear that that power
was in every case far less than what might naively be inferred from the fact
that the emperor’s word was law.
To illustrate the practical limitations on the emperor’s power with a
concrete example, in 1069 AD the emperor Shenzong (Shen-tsung), having
recognized the brilliance of the political thinker Wang Anshi (An-shih),
appointed him Vice Chief Councillor in charge of administration and gave
him fullpower to implement his ideas in the emperor’s name. 62 Wang based
his reforms on thorough study, but both he and the emperor failed to take
account of the bitter opposition that the new policies would arouse among
those whose private interests were threatened by them. 63 “Even in the short
run, the cost of the divisive factionalism that the reforms generated had
disastrous effects.” 64 Opposition to Wang was so intense that he resigned
permanently in 1076, and during the eight years following Shenzong’s
death in 1085 most of the reforms were rescinded or drastically revised. 65
Under two subsequent emperors, Zhezong (Che-tsung; reigned in effect,
circa 1093-1100) and Huizong (Hui-tsung; reigned 1100-1126), some of
the reforms were restored, but “Wang’s own former associates were gone,
and his policies became nothing more than an instrument in bitter polit¬
ical warfare.” 66 “[AJlthough Emperor Huizong’s reign saw some of the
reform measures reinstated, the atmosphere at his court was not one of
high-minded commitment,” 67 but was characterized by “debased politi¬
cal behavior.” 68 “Leading officials engaged in corrupt practices,” and the
rapacity of the emperor’s agents “aroused serious revolts of people who in
desperation took up arms against them.” 69 The fall of the Northern Song
(Sung) Dynasty in 1126-27 marked the final demise of whatever was left
of Wang’s reforms. 70
• Norbert Elias makes clear that the “absolute” monarchs of the
“Age of Absolutism” in Europe were not so absolute as they seemed. 71
For example, Louis XIV of France is generally seen as the archetype of
the “absolute” monarch; he could probably have had any individual’s head
chopped off at will. But by no means could he use his power freely:
The vast human network that Louis XIV ruled ha[d] its own momen¬
tum and its own centre of gravity which he had to respect. It cost
Chapter One: Part III
immense effort and self-control to preserve the balance of people and
groups and, by playing on the tensions, to steer the whole. 72
Elias might have added that Louis XIV could “steer” his realm only
within certain narrow limits. Elias himself refers elsewhere to “the reali¬
zation that even the most absolute government is helpless in the face of the
dynamisms of social development... .” 73
• The theoretically absolute emperor Joseph II ruled Austria from
1780 to 1790 and instituted major reforms of a “progressive” (i.e., modern¬
izing) character. But:
“By 1787 resistance to Joseph and his government was intensifying.
...Resistance simmered in the Austrian Netherlands... .
“[By 1789]... The war [against the Turks] caused an outpouring of
popular agitation against his foreign policy, the people of the Austrian
Netherlands rose in outright revolution, and reports of trouble in Galicia
“Faced with these difficulties, Joseph revoked many of the reforms
that he had enacted earlier. ...
“.. .[Joseph II] tried to do too much too quickly and so died a deeply
disappointed man.” 74
Especially to be noted is the fact that Joseph II failed even though
most of his reforms were modernizing ones; that is, they merely attempted
to accelerate Austria’s movement in obedience to a powerful pre-existing
trend in European history.
Revolutionary dictators of the 20 th century, such as Hitler and Stalin,
were probably more powerful than traditional “absolute” monarchs, because
the revolutionary character of their regimes had done away with many of
the traditional, formal or informal social structures and customary restraints
that had curbed the “legitimate” monarchs’ exercise of their power. But even
the revolutionary dictators’ power was in practice far less than absolute.
• During the 1930s, when the Hitler regime was rearming Germany
in preparation for anticipated warfare, resistance by the working class “kept
the government from curtailing the production of consumers’ goods,
although civilian output interfered seriously with arms production.” 75
It is said that, from 1938, resistance to the regime included some ten
attempts to kill Hitler or otherwise remove him from power. 76 The most
important of these efforts was initiated in 1943 by a conspiracy of civilian
dignitaries and military officers, who on July 20, 1944 tried to blow the
Fiihrer up with a bomb, after which they planned to seize control of the
government. The assassination attempt was nearly successful, and it was
only through luck that Hitler escaped with his life. 77 It appears that many
of the conspirators were motivated not only by the fact that Hitler had
gotten them into a losing war, but also by disgust at the atrocities that
Germans, under Nazi leadership, were committing against Jews, Slavs,
and other groups. 78
• In the Soviet Union between 1934 and 1941, the Stalin regime was
unable to regulate its own labor force, for the “demand for labor created a
situation that overrode... the efforts of the regime to control labor through
legislation.” 79 The government naturally wanted a stable work force in which
workers would remain at their jobs as long as they were needed, but in
practice they “continued to change jobs at a high rate.” 80 Laws were evaded
or simply ignored, and “hardly slowed down the movement of workers.” 81
More significantly, the Terror of the middle to late 1930 s was not a
calculated and effective measure undertaken by Stalin to crush resistance
to his rule. Instead, a frightened dictator initiated a process that rapidly
spiraled out of his control. “Stalin was a man initiating and reacting to
developments, not the cold mastermind of a plot to subdue the party and the
nation.” “It now appears that Stalin and his close associates, having helped
create a tense and ugly atmosphere, nonetheless repeatedly reacted [during
the Terror] to events they had not planned or foreseen.” “An atmosphere of
panic had set in reminiscent of the European witch-hunts... .” “Stalin seems
to have become steadily more worried as the purges uncovered alleged spies
and Trotskyites. Finally he struck at them, almost incoherently, [f ] During
1937 and 1938 events spun out of... control.” “[T]he police fabricated cases,
tortured people not targeted in Stalin’s directives, and became a power unto
themselves.” “Terror was producing avoidance of responsibility, which was
dysfunctional. Whatever the goal at the top, events were again out of con¬
trol.” “[Stalin] reacted, and over-reacted, to events. ... He was sitting at the
peak of a pyramid of lies and incomplete information... .” “The evidence
is now strong that [Stalin] did not plan the Terror.” 82
Quite apart from any resistance by subordinates or other “conflicts
among individual wills” within a system, purely technical factors narrowly
limit the options open even to a leader whose power over his system is
Chapter One: Part III
• In Frank Norris’s immortal novel, The Octopus —about wheat
farmers whose livelihood is destroyed by railroad rate increases—the pro¬
tagonist, Presley, confronts the apparently ruthless businessman Shelgrim,
President of the railroad. But Shelgrim tells him:
‘“You are dealing with forces, young man, when you speak of wheat
and the railroads, not with men. ... Men have only little to do with the
whole business. ... Blame conditions, not men.’
“‘But—but’, faltered Presley, ‘You are the head, you control the road.’
“‘...Control the road! ... I can go into bankruptcy if you like. But
otherwise, if I run my road as a business proposition, I can do nothing. I
can not control it.’” 83
The Octopus is a work of fiction, but it does truthfully represent, in
dramatized form, the economic realities of the era in which Norris wrote
(about the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century). At
that time, “railway labor and material costs” had increased, and “many
American railroads, already struggling to stay alive economically, could
not afford rate reductions.” State railroad commissions “seeking... ways of
establishing fair, ‘scientific’ rates” found that “there was no such thing as
‘scientific’ rate making. They discovered that it was extraordinarily difficult
to define the ‘public interest’ or to take the rate question ‘out of politics.’
Setting rates meant assigning economic priorities, and someone—shipper,
carrier, consumer—inevitably got hurt.” 84 So it’s likely that a railroad like
Shelgrim’s would indeed have gone bankrupt if it had tried to set rates in
such a way as to treat everyone “fairly” and humanely.
It is probably true in general that the ruthless behavior of business
enterprises is more often compelled by economic realities than voluntarily
chosen by a rapacious management.
• In the 1830s, at an early stage of the U.S. industrial revolution,
the textile manufacturers of Massachusetts treated their employees benevo¬
lently. Nowadays their system would no doubt be decried as “paternalistic,”
but in material terms the workers could consider themselves fortunate, for
working conditions and housing were very good by the standards of the
time. But during the 1840s the situation of the workers began to deterio¬
rate. Wages were reduced, hours of work increased, and greater effort was
demanded of the workers; and this was the result not of employers’ greed
but of market conditions that grew out of economic competition. 85 “As
business became nationwide... the competition of different manufacturing
areas meant that prices and wages were no longer determined by local
conditions. They fluctuated as a consequence of economic changes wholly
beyond the control of the employers or workers immediately concerned.” 86
• A recent (2012) article by Adam Davidson discusses some of
the reasons behind the problem of unemployment in the U.S. Taking as
an example a company he has personally investigated, Davidson writes:
“It’s tempting to look to the owners of Standard Motor Products and ask
them to help [unskilled workers]: to cut costs a little less relentlessly, take
slightly lower profits, and maybe even help solve America’s jobs crisis in
some small way.” Davidson then goes on to explain why a company like
Standard Motor Products would not be able to survive in the face of com¬
petition if it did not cut costs relentlessly and, therefore, replace human
workers with machines whenever it was profitable to do so. 87 Here again
we see that “[t]he businessman... [is] only the agent of economic forces
and developments beyond his control.” 88
In the last two examples the options open to leaders of organizations
were limited not by technical factors alone, but by these in conjunction
with competition from outside the organization. But even independently
of external competition and of any “conflict of wills” within a system,
technical factors by themselves severely limit the choices available to the
system’s leaders. Not even dictators can escape these limitations.
• In the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on Spain we find: “For
almost 20 years after the [Spanish Civil War], the [Franco regime] followed
a policy of... national economic self-sufficiency... . Spain’s policies of eco¬
nomic self-sufficiency were a failure, and by the late 1950s the country was
on the verge of economic collapse.” 89
Unwilling to rely solely on the foregoing brief passage for twenty years
of Spanish economic history, this writer consulted a Spanish correspondent,
who sent him copies of pages from relevant historical works. 90 It turned
out that the Britannicas account—perhaps unavoidably in view of its brev¬
ity—was oversimplified to the point of being seriously misleading. Among
other things, it isn’t clear to what extent Spain’s policy of self-sufficiency
was voluntarily chosen and to what extent it was forced on the country, first
by the conditions prevailing during World War II and later by the Western
democracies’ hostility to the authoritarian regime of Franco. Much of this
history is beyond the understanding of those of us who have no special¬
ized knowledge of economics, but one thing does emerge clearly: Quite
apart from any external competition or internal conflict, economic reality
Chapter One: Part III
imposes narrow limits on what even an authoritarian regime can do with
a nation’s economy. A dictator cannot run an economy the way a general
runs an army—by giving orders from above—because the economy won’t
follow orders. 91 In other words, not even a powerful dictator like Francisco
Franco can overrule the laws of economics.
Nor can idealistic zeal overcome those laws.
• In the years following the Cuban Revolution of 1956-59, U.S.
media propaganda portrayed Fidel Castro as motivated by a lust for power,
but actually Castro started out with generalized humanitarian and demo¬
cratic goals. 92 Once he had overthrown the Batista government, he found
that, despite the immense power conferred on him by his personal cha¬
risma, 93 the options open to him were extremely limited. Circumstances
forced him to choose between democracy and the deep social reforms that
he envisioned; he couldn’t have both. Since his basic goals were his social
ones he had to abandon democracy, become a dictator, and Stalinize and
militarize Cuban society. 94
There can be no doubt about the idealistic zeal of the Cuban rev¬
olutionaries, 95 and Castro was as powerful as any charismatic dictator
could ever be. 96 Even so, the revolutionary regime was unable to control
the development of Cuban society: Castro admitted that he had failed
to curb the bureaucratic tendencies of Cuba’s administrative apparatus. 97
Notwithstanding the regime’s strong ideological opposition to racism, “the
drive to promote... blacks and mixed race Cubans to leadership positions
within the government and Party” was only partly successful, as Castro
himself acknowledged. 98 In fact, Cuban efforts to combat racism do not
seem to have been any more successful than those of the United States. 99
The Castro regime achieved no more than minimal success in its attempt to
free the Cuban economy from its almost total dependence on sugar and to
industrialize the country. 100 To survive at all economically, the regime was
forced to abandon its attempt to build “socialism” (as conceived by Cuba’s
idealistic leaders) within a short period. It was found necessary instead to
make ideologically painful compromises with economic reality, 101 and even
with these compromises the Cuban economy has remained no more than
barely viable. 102
A contributing factor in Cuba’s economic failure was the embargo
imposed by the United States: U.S. firms were forbidden to trade with
Cuba. But this factor was not decisive, and not as important as admirers
of the Castro regime liked to think. Cuba could trade with most of the
economically important countries of the world other than the U.S., and
was even able to trade indirectly with major U.S. corporations by deal¬
ing with their subsidiaries in other countries. 103 The embargo was far less
important than Cuba’s inability to free itself from its excessive depen¬
dence on sugar or even to run its sugar industry efficiently. 104 Another
factor in Cuba’s economic failure was a lack of cooperation within Cuban
society—Engels’s “conflicts among many individual wills.” There were
absenteeism, passive resistance to production quotas, and “stolid peasant
resistance.” 105 “Individualistic” tendencies led to pilfering, waste, and even
to major criminal activity. 106 In addition, there were conflicts within the
Cuban power-structure. 107 Almost certainly, however, the decisive factor
in Cuba’s failure has been the Castro regime’s refusal to comply with the
technical requirements for economic success: The regime compromised
its ideology only as far as was necessary for bare survival, and declined to
accept those elements of the free market and of capitalism that might have
made vigorous development possible. That this factor was decisive is shown
by the fact that purely socialist economies have failed all over the world. 108
IV. There is yet another—and critically important—reason why a
society cannot “steer” itself in the manner suggested at the beginning of
Part III of this chapter: Every complex, large-scale society is subject to
internal developments generated by “natural selection” operating on systems
that exist within the society. This factor is discussed at length in Chapter
Two; here we will only sketch the argument in the briefest possible terms.
Through a process analogous to biological evolution there arise,
within any complex, large-scale society, self-preserving or self-reproducing
systems large and small (including, for example, business enterprises, politi¬
cal parties or movements, open or covert social networks such as networks of
corrupt officials) that struggle to survive and propagate themselves. Because
power is a cardinal tool for survival, these systems compete for power.
Biological organisms, evolving through natural selection, eventu¬
ally invade every niche in which biological survival is possible at all,
and, whatever measures may be taken to suppress them, some organisms
will find ways of surviving nonetheless. Within any complex, large-scale
society, a similar process will produce self-propagating systems that
will invade every corner and circumvent all attempts to suppress them.
These systems will compete for power without regard to the objectives
of any government (or other entity) that may try to steer the society. Our
Chapter One: Part V
argument—admittedlyimpossible at present to prove conclusively—is that
these self-propagating systems will constitute uncontrollable forces that
will render futile in the long run all efforts to steer the society rationally.
For details, see Chapter Two.
V. Notwithstanding all the arguments we’ve reviewed in the present
chapter up to this point, let’s make the unrealistic assumption that tech¬
niques for manipulating the internal dynamics of a society will some day
be developed to such a degree that a single, all-powerful leader (we’ll be
charitable and call him a philosopher-king 109 rather than a dictator)—or a
group of leaders small enough (< 6?) to be free of “conflicts among indi¬
vidual wills” within the group—will be able to steer a society as suggested
at the beginning of Part III, above.
The notion of authoritarian rule by a single leader or a small group
of leaders is not as far-fetched as it may appear to the denizens of modern,
liberal democracies. Many people in the world already live under the author¬
ity of one man or a few, and when the technological society gets itself into
sufficiently serious trouble, as it is likely to do in the coming decades, even
the denizens of liberal democracies will begin looking for solutions that
today seem out of the question. During the Great Depression of the 1930s,
many Americans—mainstream people, not kooks out on the fringes—felt
disillusioned with democracy 110 and advocated rule by a dictator or an oli¬
garchy (a “supercouncil” or a “directorate”). 111 Many admired Mussolini. 112
During the same period, many Britons admired Hitler’s Germany. “Lloyd
George’s reaction to Hitler was typical: ‘If only we had a man of his supreme
quality in England today,’ he said.” 113
Returning, then, to our hypothetical dictator, or philosopher-king
as we’ve decided to call him, we’ll assume, however implausibly, that he
will somehow be able to overcome the problems of complexity, of the con¬
flicts of many individual wills, of resistance by subordinates, and of the
competitive, power-seeking groups or systems that will evolve within any
complex, large-scale society. Even under this unreal assumption we will
still run into fundamental difficulties.
The first problem is: Who is going to choose the philosopher-king
and how will they put him into power? Given the vast disparities of goals
and values (“conflicts among individual wills”) in any large-scale society, it
is hardly likely that the rule of any one philosopher-king could be consistent
with the goals and values of a majority of the population, or even with the
goals and values of a majority of any elite stratum (the intellectuals, say, or
scientists, or rich people)—except to the extent that the philosopher-king,
once in power, might use propaganda or other techniques of human engi¬
neering to bring the values of the majority into line with his own. If the
realities of practical politics are taken into account, it seems that anyone
who might actually become a philosopher-king either would have to be a
compromise candidate, a bland fellow whose chief concern would be to
avoid offending anyone, or else would have to be the ruthless leader of an
aggressive faction that drives its way to power. In the latter case he might
be an unscrupulous person intent only on attaining power for himself (a
Hitler), or he might be a sincere fanatic convinced of the righteousness of his
cause (a Lenin), but either way he would stop at nothing to achieve his goals.
Thus, the citizen who might find the idea of a philosopher-king
attractive should bear in mind that he himself would not select the
philosopher-king, and that any philosopher-king who might come into
power would probably not be the kind that he imagines or hopes for.
A further problem is that of selecting a successor when the
philosopher-king dies. Each philosopher-king will have to be able to pre¬
select reliably a successor whose goals and values are virtually identical to
his own; for, otherwise, the first philosopher-king will steer the society
in one direction, the second philosopher-king will steer the society in a
somewhat different direction, the third philosopher-king will steer it in yet
another direction, and so forth. The result will be that the development
of the society in the long term will wander at random, rather than being
steered in any consistent direction or in accord with any consistent policy
as to what constitute desirable or undesirable outcomes.
Historically, in absolute monarchies of any kind—the Roman Empire
makes a convenient example—it has proven impossible even to ensure
the succession of rulers who are reasonably competent and conscientious.
Capable, conscientious rulers have alternated with those who have been
irresponsible, corrupt, vicious or incompetent. As for a long, unbroken
succession of rulers, each of whom not only is competent and conscientious
but also has goals and values closely approximating those of his predeces¬
sor—you can forget it. All of these arguments, by the way, apply not only to
philosopher-kings but also to philosopher-oligarchs—ruling groups small
enough so that Engels’s “conflicts among many individual wills” do not
come into play.
Chapter One: Part VI
All the same, let’s assume that it would somehow be possible to
ensure the succession of a long line of philosopher-kings all of whom would
govern in accord with a single, permanently stable system of values. In that
event... but hold on... let’s pause and take stock of the assumptions we’ve
been making. We’re assuming, among other things, that the problems
of complexity, chaos, and the resistance of subordinates, also the purely
technical factors that limit the options open to leaders, as well as the
competitive, power-seeking groups that evolve within a society under the
influence of natural selection, can all be overcome to such an extent that
an all-powerful leader will be able to govern the society rationally; we’re
assuming that the “conflicts among many individual wills” within the
society can be resolved well enough so that it will be possible to make a
rational choice of leader, we’re assuming that means will be found to put the
chosen leader into a position of absolute power and to guarantee forever the
succession of competent and conscientious leaders who will govern in accord
with some stable and permanent system of values. And if the hypothetical
possibility of steering a society rationally is to afford any comfort to the
reader, he will have to assume that the system of values according to which
the society is steered will be one that is at least marginally acceptable to
himself—which is a sufficiently daring assumption.
It’s now clear that we have wandered into the realm of fantasy. It is
impossible to prove with mathematical certainty that the development of a
society can never be guided rationally over any significant interval of time,
but the series of assumptions that we’ve had to make in order to entertain
the possibility of rational guidance is so wildly improbable that for practical
purposes we can safely assume that the development of societies will forever
remain beyond rational human control. 114
VI. It’s likely that the chief criticism to be leveled at this chapter
will be that the writer has expended a great deal of ink and paper to prove
what “everyone” already knows. Unfortunately, however, not everyone does
know that the development of societies can never be subject to rational
human control; and even many who would agree with that proposition as
an abstract principle fail to apply the principle in concrete cases. Again and
again we find seemingly intelligent people proposing elaborate schemes
for solving society’s problems, completely oblivious to the fact that such
schemes never, never, never are carried out successfully. In a particularly
fuddled excursion into fantasy written several decades ago, the noted tech¬
nology critic Ivan Illich asserted that “society must be reconstructed to
enlarge the contribution of autonomous individuals and primary groups
to the total effectiveness of a new system of production designed to satisfy
the human needs which it also determines,” and that a “convivial society
should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action
by means of tools least controlled by others” 115 —as if a society could be
consciously and rationally “reconstructed” or “designed.” Other egregious
examples of this sort of folly were provided by Arne Naess 116 and Chellis
Glendinning 117 in 1989 and 1990, respectively; these are discussed in Part
IV of Chapter Three of the present work.
Right down to the present (2013), people who should know better
have continued to ignore the fact that the development of societies can
never be rationally controlled. Thus, we often find technophiles making
such absurd statements as: “humanityis in charge of its own fate”; “[we will]
take charge of our own evolution”; or, “people [will] seize control of the
evolutionary process.” 118 The technophiles want to “guide research so that
technology improve[s] society”; they have created a “Singularity University”
and a “Singularity Institute” that are supposed to “shape the advances and
help society cope with the ramifications” of technological progress, and
“make sure... that artificial intelligence... is friendly” to humans. 119
Of course, the technophiles won’t be able to “shape the advances” of
technology or make sure that they “improve society” and are friendly to
humans. Technological advances will be “shaped” in the long run by unpre¬
dictable and uncontrollable power-struggles among rival groups that will
develop and apply technology for the sole purpose of gaining advantages
over their competitors. See Chapter Two of this book.
It’s not likely that the majority of technophiles fully believe in this
drivel about “shaping the advances” of technology to “improve society.” In
practice, Singularity University serves mainly to promote the interests of
technology-oriented businessmen, 120 while the fantasies about “improving
society” function as propaganda that helps to forestall public resistance to
radical technological innovation. But such propaganda is effective only
because many laymen are naive enough to take the fantasies seriously.
Whatever may be the motives behind the technophiles’ schemes for
“improving society,” other such schemes unquestionably are sincere. For
recent examples, see the books by Jeremy Rifkin (2011) 121 and Bill Ivey
(2012). 122 There are other examples that superficially lookmore sophisticated
Chapter One: Part VI
than the proposals of Rifkin and Ivey but are equally impossible to carry
out in practice. In a book published in 2011, Nicholas Ashford and Ralph P.
Hall 123 “offer a unified, transdisciplinary approach for achieving sustainable
development in industrialized nations. ... The authors argue for the design
of multipurpose solutions to the sustainability challenge that integrate eco¬
nomics, employment, technology, environment, industrial development,
national and international law, trade, finance, and public and worker health
and safety.” 124 Ashford and Hall do not intend their book to be merely an
abstract speculation like Plato’s Republic 125 or Thomas More’s Utopia-, they
imagine themselves to be offering a practical program. 126
In another example (2011), Naomi Klein proposes massive, elaborate,
worldwide “planning” 127 that is supposed to bring global warming under
control, 128 help with many of our other environmental problems, 129 and at
the same time bring us “real democracy,” 130 “rein in” 131 the corporations,
alleviate unemployment, 132 reduce wasteful consumption in rich countries 133
while allowing poor countries to continue their economic growth, 134 foster
“interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than
dominance and cooperation rather than hierarchy,” 135 “elegantly weav[e]
all these struggles into a coherent narrative about how to protect life on
earth,” 136 and overall promote a “progressive” agenda 137 so as to create a
“healthy, just world.” 138
One is tempted to ask whether the schemes concocted by people like
Ashford, Hall, and Klein are meant as an elaborate joke of some sort; but
no, the intentions of these authors are quite serious. How can they possibly
believe that schemes like theirs will ever be carried out in the real world?
Are they totally devoid of any practical sense about human affairs? Maybe.
But a more likely explanation is unwittingly offered by Naomi Klein her¬
self: “[I]t is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get
shattered... ,” 139 The worldview of most members of the upper middle class,
including most intellectuals, is deeply dependent on the existence of a thor¬
oughly organized, culturally “advanced,” large-scale society characterized by
a high level of social order. It would be extremely difficult psychologically
for such people to recognize that the only way to get off the road to disaster
that we are now on would be through a total collapse of organized society
and therefore a descent into chaos. So they cling to any scheme, however
unrealistic, that promises to preserve the society on which their lives and
their worldview are dependent; and one suspects that the threat to their
worldview is more important to them than the threat to their lives.
1. Redondilla, in Barja, p. 176. Free translation: “Where there is a plan for
good, some evil derails it. The good comes but proves ineffective, while the evil
is effective and persists.”
2. Tacitus, Book III, Chapt. 18, p. 112.
3. This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but it’s close enough to the
truth for our purposes. See NEB (2003), Vol. 4, “Federal Reserve System,” p. 712,
and Vol. 8, “monetary policy,” pp. 251-52; World Book Encyclopedia , 2011, Vol. 7,
“Federal Reserve System,” p. 65.
4. NEB (2003), Vol. 20, “Greek and Roman Civilizations,” pp. 295-96.
5. Ibid., pp. 304-05.
6. NEB (1997), Vol. 22, “Italy,” p. 195.
7. Simon Bolivar, Letter to Gen. Juan Jose Flores, Nov. 9,1830, in Soriano,
8. Heilbroner 8c Singer, p. 122.
9. Patterson, pp. 402-03.
10. The facts are outlined by Patterson, pp. 396-405, but the conclusions
drawn from the facts are my own.
11. There are at least three categories of exceptions to this rule, as noted in
Kaczynski, p. 279, but these exceptions have little relevance to the present chapter.
12. NEB (2003), Vol. 20, “Greek and Roman Civilizations,” pp. 228-29.
But see Starr, pp. 314, 315, 317, 334 8c note 8, 350, 358.
13. NEB (2003), Vol. 20, “Germany,” p. 114.
14. NEB (2003), Vol. 15, “Bismarck,” p. 124. For Bismarck’s career gener¬
ally, see ibid., pp. 121-24; ibid., Vol. 20, “Germany,” pp. 109-114; Zimmermann,
Chapts. 18c7; Dorpalen, pp. 219-220,229-231, 255-56, 259-260 8c note 53.
15. Constitution ofthe United States, Amendments XVIII 8cXXI. Patterson,
pp. 167-69. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “United States of America,” pp. 254-55. Vergano,
p. 3A, says that according to Arthur Lurigio of Loyola University Chicago,
“Prohibition... was unique in its widespread loathing by the populace and that
opening is what enabled organized crime to gain its political footing in Chicago.”
16. Naruo Uehara, p. 235.
17. Bourne, pp. 46-47.
18. E.g.: SohailEjazet al., pp. 98-102 (Pakistan, medical effects); Yukinori
Okada 8cSusumu Wakai, pp. 236-242 (Thailand, economic and medical effects);
Naruo Uehara, p. 235 (various effects, including desertification in unspecified
countries); Aditya Batra (Sri Lanka, medical effects); Guillette et ah, pp. 347-353
(Mexico, medical and behavioral effects); Watts (entire work) (various countries,
Chapter One: Notes
19. NEB (2003), Vol. 4, “Eisenhower, Dwight D(avid),” p. 405; Vol. 18,
“Energy Conversion,” p. 383; Vol. 29, “United Nations,” p. 144.
20. Smith 8c Weiner, pp. 271, 291, 295, 310, 311, 328.
21. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “United Nations,” p. 144.
22. F. Zakaria, p. 34.
23. The Economist, June 18, 2011, “Move the base camp,” pp. 18, 20, and
“The growing appeal of zero,” p. 69.
24. See Kaczynski, pp. 314-15, 417-18; “Radioactive fuel rods: The silent
threat,” The Week, April 15, 2011, p. 13.
25. Joy, p. 239.
26. Steele, pp. 5-21. It is also claimed that a free market provides a mech¬
anism that “automatically” maximizes the efficiency of an economy. This last
contention is unproven and probably far from accurate, but the argument that
excessive complexity makes rationally planned economies impossible is very strong.
27. Ibid., p. 83. Stigler, p. 113.
28. “It is ‘absurd’ to suppose that the information could be collected... .”
Steele, p. 83.
29. The text of the talk can be found in Lorenz, pp. 181-84.
30. Time, May 5, 2008, p. 18. The Week, May 2, 2008, p. 35.
31. NEB (2003), Vol. 3, “chaos,” p. 92.
32. Ibid., Vol. 25, “Physical Sciences, Principles of,” p. 826.
33. Ibid., pp. 826-27.
34. Ibid., p. 826.
35. See Kaczynski, pp. 357-58.
36. See Kelly, pp. 159ff. But Moore himself thinks the law is a “self-
fulfilling prophecy,” i.e., it continues to hold true only because people believe in
it. Ibid., p. 162.
37. Kurzweil, e.g., pp. 351-368.
38. Russell’s Paradox: Let a set be called “ordinary” if, and only if, it is not
a member of itself, and let S be the set of all ordinary sets. Is S ordinary, or not?
39. See note 36.
40. Thurston, p. xviii.
41. Heilbroner 8c Singer, p. 112.
42. Elias, p. 543 note 1.
43. Ibid., p. 367. However, Elias continues: “But itisbyno means impossi¬
ble that we can make of it something more ‘reasonable,’ something that functions
better in terms of our needs and purposes. For it is precisely in conjunction with
the civilizing process that the blind dynamics of people intertwining in their deeds
and aims gradually leads toward greater scope for planned intervention into both
the social and individual structures—intervention based on a growing knowledge
of the unplanned dynamics of these structures.” But Elias does not even pretend
to offer any evidence to support this statement, which is mere speculation—in
contrast to his statements about the unplanned and unintended character of all
earlier historical change, which are abundantly supported by his empirical studies
of the ways in which European society changed in the past. What Elias suggests
here looks very much like the proposal set forth at the beginning of Part III of
the present chapter, and that proposal is disposed of in Part III.
When Elias claims that “we can make of [society]... something that func¬
tions better in terms of our needs and purposes,” he fails to explain who this “we”
is. Obviously, “we” don’t all have the same purposes, and the effort to fulfill some
of “our” needs (e.g., status, power) inevitably brings us into conflict with others
among the “we.” See Parts III and IV of this chapter.
Though the edition of Elias’s book cited here is dated 2000, the content
was written several decades earlier. Since that time there has been no discernible
improvement in humans’ capacity for “planned intervention” in the development
of their societies. If anything, our statesmen seem even less in control of events
than they were in the past. Elias’s formative years were in the first half of the 20th
century, when a belief in “progress” was still widely current. Elias seems to have
been reluctant—not for rational reasons—to relinquish that belief. His remarks
on that subject, ibid., pp. 462-63, are ill-advised.
44. Engels, Letter to Joseph Bloch, as referenced in our List of Works Cited.
Engels of course wrote in German. The translation given here is influenced both
by the English translation in Historical Materialism (see the List ofWorks Cited),
pp. 294-96, and by the Spanish translation provided by Carrillo, pp. 111-12. Since
Carrillo was Secretary General of the Communist Party of Spain, he presumably
was learned in Engels’s ideas.
45. Elias, p. 311. But see note 43, above.
46. See Kaczynski, p. 314. The problem of the commons is also called the
“tragedy of the commons,” and the term is often used in a narrower sense than that
in which I use it here. See, e.g., Diamond, pp. 428-430. But the term is also used
in the broader sense in which I apply it. E.g., The Economist, April 2, 2011, p. 75.
Without using the term “problem” or “tragedy of the commons,” Surowiecki, p. 25,
has illustrated the concept by giving several excellent examples of ways in which
“individually rational decisions [can] add[ ] up to a collectively irrational result.”
47. The second sentence of this paragraph is based on my notes of a con¬
versation with Lt. Lewis, written within a couple of hours after the end of that
conversation. The relevant pages are No. 04-1013 and No. 04-1016 of my Bates-
numbered notes to my attorneys, which should now be in the Labadie Collection
at the University of Michigan’s Special Collections Library. The last sentence of
the paragraph is based on my recollection (2012) of the same conversation.
48. From a speech attributed to Caesar by Sallust, Conspiracy of Catiline,
section 51, p. 217. Roman historians commonly invented the speeches that they
Chapter One: Notes
attributed to famous people, but the quoted statement is worth noting whether it
represented Caesar’s opinion or Sallust’s.
49. Brathwait, quoted by Boorstin, pp. 99-100. I’ve taken the liberty of
modernizing spelling and capitalization.
50. NEB (2003), Vol. 23, “Lincoln,” p. 36.
51. Sampson, pp. 454-55. See also p. 436 (Mandela ‘“was still operating
under the illusion, cherished by so many revolutionaries,’ complained de Klerk...,
‘that possession of the levers of government enabled those in power to achieve
whatever goals they wanted.’”).
52. Ibid., p. 498.
53. Rossiter, pp. 52-64.
54. Ibid., p. 54.
56. Ibid., pp. 167-68.
57. Mote, p. 98.
58. Ibid., p. 99.
61. See ibid., pp. 99-100.
62. Ibid., p. 139.
63. NEB (2003), Vol. 16, “China,” p. 100. Mote, pp. 139-142.
64. NEB (2003), loc. cit.
65. Mote, p. 142. NEB (2003), loc. cit.
66. Mote, p. 142. For emperors’ dates see ibid., p. 105, Chart 2. Zhezong
technically became emperor in 1085, but the country was governed by a regent
until approximately 1093.
67. Ibid., p. 207.
68. Ibid., p. 143.
69. Ibid., p. 207.
70. Ibid., p. 143.
71. Elias, pp. 312-344.
72. Ibid., pp. 343-44.
73. Ibid., p. 38. For an inkling of the limitations on what one very nearly
absolute monarch can do today, see Goldberg, pp. 44-55 (about King Abdullah
II of Jordan).
74. NEB (2003), Vol. 14, “Austria,” pp. 518-520.
75. Dorpalen, p. 418.
76. Cebrian et al., p. 1058 (journalistic account).
77. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “World Wars,” p. 1016. Gilbert, Second World War,
pp. 551, 553, 555-59. Cebrian et al., pp. 1058-1063, provide interesting details.
78. The conspirators were “[a]larmed at the calamitous course of events
and disgusted by the crimes of the Nazi regime.” NEB (2003), loc. cit. Col.
Stauffenberg, the “chief conspirator... became disillusioned with the German occu¬
pation’s brutal policies towardSlavs and Jews.” NEB (2010), Vol. 11, “Stauffenberg,
Claus, Graf Schenk von,” p. 226. After the failure of the assassination attempt
another of the chief conspirators, Major General Tresckow, declared before com¬
mitting suicide: “God once promised Abraham to spare Sodom, should there be
ten just men in the city. He will, I hope, spare Germany because of what we have
done, and not destroy her.” Gilbert, Second. World War ; p. 558.
79. Thurston, p. 169. For other information on the regime’s inability to
control its labor force, see ibid., pp. 167-172, 176,184.
80. Ibid., p. 172.
81. Ibid., p. 171.
82. Ibid., pp. 17, 57, 90,106,112,147, 227-28, 233.
83. Norris, Book II, Chapter VIII, pp. 285-86. I’ve taken the liberty of
improving the capitalization and punctuation.
84. Patterson, p. 65.
85. Dulles, pp. 73-75.
86. Ibid., p. 99.
87. Davidson, pp. 66ff.
88. Heilbroner 8c Singer, p. 84.
89. NEB (2003), Vol. 28, “Spain,” p. 10.
90. Sueiro 8c Diaz Nosty, pp. 309-317. Suarez, pp. 231-33, 418, 471-72,
483-88. Payne, pp. 16-23.
91. See Payne, p. 17 (“[Franco era] un ignorante del funcionamiento de la
economia—como casi todos los dictadores—y creia que se podia lidiar con ella
como lo hacia un general con su ejercito: dando ordenes y directrices desde arriba
sobre como debia comportarse.”).
92. Matthews, pp. 79, 108. Horowitz, pp. 64, 127-28.
93. Matthews, pp. 76, 96-97, 337. Horowitz, pp. 46, 146-47.
94. Matthews, pp. 108, 201. Horowitz, pp. 41-84, 128,130-32,145, 157.
95. Matthews, pp. 83, 337-38. Horowitz, pp. 129-130, 133. Saney, pp.
19, 40 note 1.
96. E.g., Matthews, pp. 76, 254, 337; Horowitz, pp. 41, 46, 47, 56.
97. Horowitz, p. 120. Cf. Saney, pp. 20-21.
98. Saney, pp. 112-13.
99. This is the impression one gets from Saney, pp. 100-121. Cf. Horowitz,
100. Saney, pp. 19-21. Horowitz, pp. 46, 48, 60, 77, 175. Steele, p. 405
note 17. NEB (2003), Vol. 3, “Cuba,” p. 773; Vol. 29, “West Indies,” pp. 735, 739.
Chapter One: Notes
101. Saney, pp. 19-20. Horowitz, pp. 129-134. Matthews, p. 201 (“... in so
many... ways, [Castro] found that his ‘utopian’ ideas did not satisfy his real needs”).
102. See USA Today , Sept. 9, 2010, p. 4A, May 10, 2011, p. 6A, and June
8-10, 2012, p. 9A; Time, Sept. 27, 2010, p. 11; The Week, April 29, 2011, p. 8;
Horowitz, p. 175.
103. Horowitz, pp. 111-12,129,158,161-63, 174-75.
104. See ibid., pp. 175-76.
105. Ibid., pp. 43, 77,123.
106. Saney, p. 21.
107. Horowitz, e.g., pp. 30, 75-77,120.
108. Other factors contributing to Cuba’s economic failure were: (i) The
limited natural and human resources of the island. Saney, pp. 15, 19. Horowitz,
p. 145. But Singapore had negligible natural resources, yet built an impressively
powerful economy. Human resources (trained technical personnel, etc.) can be
created in a relatively short time, as in Japan following the Meiji Restoration. The
Cubans would not have had to be as industrious or as skillful as the Singaporeans
or the Japanese in order to build merely an adequate economy, (ii) Cuba’s economic
dependence on the Soviet Union. Saney, p. 21. Horowitz, pp. 77, 99, 111, 120,
128,147. But Cuba’s dependence was only a result of its failure from other causes.
An economically sound nation would have been able to avoid total dependence
on a single foreign power.
109. The idea of a “philosopher-king” originated with Plato (see in Buchanan:
“The Republic,” Book V, p. 492; Book VI), who seems to have entertained not only
the notion of a single philosopher-king (ibid., Book VI, pp. 530-31), but also that
of a philosopher-oligarchy (ibid., Book VII, p. 584: “.. .when the true philosopher
kings are born in a State, one or more of them...”). From respect for the female
sex, let’s note that the hypothetical philosopher “king” considered in Part V of
this chapter could just as well be a philosopher-queen.
110. Leuchtenburg, pp. 26, 27.
111. Ibid., p. 30.
112. Ibid., pp. 30 note 43, 221-22.
113. Gilbert, European Powers, pp. 191-92.
114. True believers in technology like Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Kelly will no
doubt propose futuristic, hypertechnological solutions to the problem of rational
guidance of a society. For our answer, see Appendix One.
115. Illich, pp. 10, 20.
116. Naess, pp. 92-103.
117. Glendinning, as referenced in our List ofWorks Cited.
118. Grossman, p. 49, col. 1, col. 3. Vance, p. 1.
119. Grossman, p. 48, col. 3. Markoff, “Ay Robot!,” p. 4, col. 2, col. 3
(columns occupied entirely by advertisements are not counted).
120. See, e.g., Vance, p. 1 (Singularity University “focuses o n introducing
entrepreneurs to promising technologies...,” etc.).
121. Rifkin, as referenced in our List ofWorks Cited.
122. Ivey, as referenced in our List ofWorks Cited.
123. Ashford 6c Hall, as referenced in our List ofWorks Cited.
124. Publisher’s description located online as of March 28, 2016 at:
sustainable-development. The bit quoted here does truthfully describe the content
of the book.
125. Plato did not regard his “Republic” as mere abstract speculation; he
thought he was describing, at least to a rough approximation, a practical possibility.
See in Buchanan: “The Republic,” Book V, pp. 491-92; Book VI, pp. 530-31;
Book VII, p. 584. But in modern times—as far as I know—Plato’s “Republic” has
always been treated as theoretical speculation, not as a description of a practical
126. Ashford 6c Hall, p. 1 (“We hope that the prescriptions discussed in
this work will not be regarded as utopian.”).
127. Klein, pp. 14-15.
128. Ibid., pp. 14-17.
129. Ibid., p. 15.
130. Ibid., p. 15, col. 1.
131. Ibid.; see also p. 18, col. 1 (“reining in of the market forces”).
132. Ibid., pp. 15, col. 1, col. 2; 16; 21, col. 2.
133. Ibid., pp. 16; 17, col. 2.
134. Ibid., p. 16.
135. Ibid., p. 19, col. 2.
136. Ibid., p. 20, col. 1.
138. Ibid., p. 20, col. 2.
139. Ibid., p. 18, col. 1.
Why the Technological System
Will Destroy Itself
We were recently entertained by a naive fable of the happy
arrival of the ‘end of history,’ of the overflowing triumph of
an all-democratic bliss; the ultimate global arrangement had
supposedly been attained. But we all see and sense that some¬
thing very different is coming, something new, and perhaps
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1
Power is in nature the essential measure of right.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson 2
I. Most of the arguments set forth elsewhere in this book are reason¬
ably solid, but in the present chapter we go out on a limb both in making
assumptions and in drawing inferences from them. We think our assump¬
tions and inferences contain at least as much truth as they need to contain
for the purpose of reaching certain probable conclusions about the future
of human society, but we acknowledge that rational disagreement with our
reasoning is possible. Two things, however, can be definitely asserted: first,
that our assumptions and inferences are reasonably accurate as applied to
the development up to the present time of large-scale, complex societies;
second, that anyone who wants to understand the likely future development
of modern society will have to give careful attention to problems of the
kind that are raised by the arguments of this chapter.
Though we focus here on the processes of competition and natural
selection 3 as they operate in complex societies, it is important to avoid
confusing our viewpoint with the (now largely defunct) philosophy known
as “Social Darwinism.” Social Darwinism didn’t merely call attention to
natural selection as a factor in the development of societies; it also assumed
that the winners in the contest of “survival of the fittest” were better, more
desirable human beings than the losers were:
[T]he competitive struggle of business was viewed as a contest in
which the survivors were the ‘fittest’—not merely as businessmen, but
as champions of civilization itself. Hence businessmen transformed
their sense of material superiority into a sense of moral and intellec¬
tual superiority ... Social Darwinism became a means of excusing as
well as explaining the competitive process from which some emerged
with power and some were ground into poverty . 4
Here our purpose is merely to describe the role that natural selec¬
tion plays in the development of societies. We do not mean to suggest any
favorable value-judgment concerning the winners in the struggle for power.
II. This chapter deals with self-propagating systems. By a self-
propagating system (self-prop system for short) we mean a system that
tends to promote its own survival and propagation. A system may propagate
itself in either or both of two ways: The system may indefinitely increase
its own size and/or power, or it may give rise to new systems that possess
some of its own attributes.
The most obvious examples of self-propagating systems are biological
organisms. Groups of biological organisms can also constitute self-prop sys¬
tems; e.g., wolf packs or hives of honeybees. Particularly important for our
purposes are self-prop systems that consist of groups of human beings. For
example, nations, corporations, labor unions, churches, and political parties;
also some groups that are not clearly delimited and lack formal organization,
such as schools of thought, social networks, and subcultures. Just as wolf-
packs and beehives are self-propagating without any conscious intention
on the part of wolves or bees to propagate their packs or their hives, there
is no reason why a human group cannot be self-propagating independently
of any intention on the part of the individuals who comprise the group.
If A and B are systems of any kind (self-propagating or not), and if A
is a functioning component of B, then we will call A a subsystem of B, and we
will call B a supersystem of A. For example, in human hunting-and-gathering
societies, nuclear families 5 belong to bands, and bands often are organized
into tribes. Nuclear families, bands, and tribes are all self-prop systems. The
nuclear family is a subsystem of the band, the band is a subsystem of the
tribe, the tribe is a supersystem of each band that belongs to it, and each
band is a supersystem of every nuclear family that belongs to that band.
It is also true that each nuclear family is a subsystem of the tribe and that
Chapter Two: Part II
the tribe is a supersystem of every nuclear family that belongs to a band
that belongs to the tribe.
The principle of natural selection is operative not only in biology,
but in any environment in which self-propagating systems are present. The
principle can be stated roughly as follows:
Those self-propagating systems having the traits that best suit them
to survive and propagate themselves tend to survive and propagate them¬
selves better than other self-propagating systems.
This of course is an obvious tautology, so it tells us nothing new. But
it can serve to call our attention to factors that we might otherwise overlook.
We are about to advance several propositions that are not tautologies.
We can’t prove these propositions, but they are intuitively plausible and they
seem consistent with the observable behavior of self-propagating systems
as represented by biological organisms and human (formal or informal)
organizations. In short, we believe these propositions to be true, or as close
to the truth as they need to be for present purposes.
Proposition 1. In any environment that is sufficiently rich, self-
propagating systems will arise, and natural selection will lead to the
evolution of self-propagating systems having increasingly complex, subtle,
and sophisticated means of surviving and propagating themselves.
It needs to be emphasized that natural selection doesn’t merely act in
simple ways, as by making the legs of deer longer so that they can run faster
or giving arctic mammals thicker coats of fur so that they can stay warm.
Natural selection can also lead to the development of complex structures
such as the human eye or heart, and to systems of far greater complexity that
still are not fully understood, such as the human immune system or nervous
system. We maintain that natural selection can lead to equally complex
and subtle developments in self-prop systems consisting of human groups.
Natural selection operates relative to particular periods of time. Let’s
start at some given point in time that we can call Time Zero. Those self¬
prop systems that are most likely to survive (or have surviving progeny)
at five years from Time Zero are those that are best suited to survive and
propagate themselves (in competition 6 with other self-prop systems) during
the five-year period following Time Zero. These will not necessarily be
the same as those self-prop systems that, in the absence of competition
during the five-year period, would be best suited to survive and propagate
themselves during the thirty years following Time Zero. Similarly, those
systems best suited to survive competition during the first thirty years
following Time Zero are not necessarily those that, in the absence of com¬
petition during the thirty-year period, would be best suited to survive and
propagate themselves for two hundred years. And so forth.
For example, suppose a forested region is occupied by a number
of small, rival kingdoms. Those kingdoms that clear the most land for
agricultural use can plant more crops and therefore can support a larger
population than other kingdoms. This gives them a military advantage over
their rivals. If any kingdom restrains itself from excessive forest-clearance
out of concern for the long-term consequences, then that kingdom places
itself at a military disadvantage and is eliminated by the more powerful
kingdoms. Thus the region comes to be dominated by kingdoms that cut
down their forests recklessly. The resulting deforestation leads eventually
to ecological disaster and therefore to the collapse of all the kingdoms.
Here a trait that is advantageous or even indispensable for a kingdom’s
short-term survival—recklessness in cutting trees—leads in the long term
to the demise of the same kingdom. 7
This example illustrates the fact that, where a self-prop system exer¬
cises foresight, 8 in the sense that concern for its own long-term survival and
propagation leads it to place limitations on its efforts for short-term survival
and propagation, the system puts itself at a competitive disadvantage relative
to those self-prop systems that pursue short-term survival and propagation
without restraint. This leads us to
Proposition 2. In the short term, natural selection favors self-
propagating systems that pursue their own short-term advantage with little
or no regard for long-term consequences.
A corollary to Proposition 2 is
Proposition 3. Self-propagating subsystems of a given supersystem
tend to become dependent on the supersystem and on the specific conditions
that prevail within the supersystem.
This means that between the supersystem and its self-prop subsys¬
tems, there tends to develop a relationship of such a nature that, in the
event of the destruction of the supersystem or of any drastic acceleration of
Chapter Two: Part II
changes in the conditions prevailing within the supersystem, the subsystems
can neither survive nor propagate themselves.
A self-prop system with sufficient foresight would make provision
for its own or its descendants’ survival in the event of the collapse or desta¬
bilization of the supersystem. But as long as the supersystem exists and
remains more or less stable, natural selection favors those subsystems that
take fullest advantage of the opportunities available within the supersys¬
tem, and disfavors those subsystems that “waste” some of their resources in
preparing themselves to survive the eventual destabilization of the super¬
system. Under these conditions, self-prop systems will tend very strongly
to become incapable of surviving the destabilization of any supersystem to
which they belong.
Like the other propositions put forward in this chapter, Proposition
3 has to be applied with a dose of common sense. If the supersystem in
question is weak and loosely organized, or if it has no more than a modest
effect on the conditions in which its subsystems exist, the subsystems
may not become strongly dependent on the supersystem. Among hunter-
gatherers in some (not all) environments, a nuclear family would be able to
survive and propagate itself independently of the band to which it belongs.
Because tribes of hunter-gatherers are loosely organized it seems certain
that in most cases a hunting-and-gathering band would be able to survive
independently of the tribe to which it belongs. Many labor unions might
be able to survive the demise of a confederation of labor unions such as
the AFL-CIO, because such an event might not fundamentally affect the
conditions under which labor unions have to function. But labor unions
could not survive the demise of modern industrial society, or even the
demise merely of the legal and constitutional framework that makes it
possible for labor unions as we know them to operate. Nor would many
present-day business enterprises survive without modern industrial society.
Domestic sheep, if deprived of human protection, would soon be killed off
by predators. And so forth.
Clearly a system cannot be effectively organized for its own survival
and propagation unless the different parts of the system can promptly com¬
municate with one another and lend aid to one another. In order to operate
effectively throughout a given geographical region, a self-prop system must
be able to receive prompt information from, and take prompt action within,
every part of the region. 9 Consequently,
Proposition 4. Problems of transportation and communication impose
a limit on the size of the geographical region over which a self-prop system
can extend its operations.
Human experience suggests:
Proposition 5. The most important and the only consistent limit on the
size of the geographical regions over which self-propagating human groups
extend their operations is the limit imposed by the available means of trans¬
portation and communication. In other words, while not all self-propagating
human groups tend to extend their operations over a region of maximum
size, natural selection tends to produce some self-propagating human groups
that operate over regions approaching the maximum size allowed by the
available means of transportation and communication.
Propositions 4 and 5 can be seen operating in human history.
Primitive bands or tribes usually have territories that they “own,” but these
are relatively small because human feet are the only means of transporta¬
tion available to these societies. However, primitives who have numerous
horses and live in open country over which horses can travel freely, like
the Plains Indians of North America, can hold much larger territories.
Pre-industrial civilizations built empires that extended over vast distances,
but these empires actively created, if they did not already have, relatively
rapid means of transportation and communication. 10 Such empires grew
to a certain geographical size, after which they stopped growing and, in
many cases, became unstable; that is, they tended to breakup into smaller
political units. Though the hypothesis would be difficult to prove conclu¬
sively, it is at least highly plausible that these empires stopped growing and
became unstable because they were at the limit of what was possible with
the existing means of transportation and communication.
Today there is quick transportation and almost instant communica¬
tion between any two parts of the world. Hence,
Proposition 6. In modern times, natural selection tends to produce
some self-propagating human groups whose operations span the entire
globe. Moreover, even if human beings are some day replaced by machines
or other entities, natural selection will still tend to produce some self-
propagating systems whose operations span the entire globe.
Chapter Two: Part II
Current experience strongly confirms this proposition: We see global
“superpowers,” global corporations, global political movements, global reli¬
gions, global criminal networks. Proposition 6, we argue, is not dependent
on any particular traits of human beings but only on the general properties
of self-prop systems, so there is no reason to doubt that the proposition will
remain true if and when humans are replaced by other entities: As long
as rapid, worldwide transportation and communication remain available,
natural selection will tend to produce or maintain self-prop systems whose
operations span the entire globe.
Let’s refer to such systems as global self-prop systems. Instant world¬
wide communications are still a relatively new phenomenon and their full
consequences have yet to be developed; in the future we can expect global
self-prop systems to play an even more important role than they do today.
Proposition 7. Where (as today) problems of transportation and
communication do not constitute effective limitations on the size of the
geographical regions over which self-propagating systems operate, natural
selection tends to create a world in which power is mostly concentrated
in the possession of a relatively small number of global self-propagating
This proposition too is suggested by human experience. But it’s easy
to see why the proposition should be true independently of anything specif¬
ically human: Among global self-prop systems, natural selection will favor
those that have the greatest power; global or other large-scale self-prop
systems that are weaker will tend to be eliminated or subjugated. Small-
scale self-prop systems that are too numerous or too subtle to be noticed
individually by the dominant global self-prop systems may retain more or
less autonomy, but each of them will have influence only within some very
limited sphere. It may be answered that a coalition of small-scale self-prop
systems could challenge the global self-prop systems, but if small-scale
self-prop systems organize themselves into a coalition having worldwide
influence, then the coalition will itself be a global self-prop system.
We can speak of the “world-system,” meaning all things that exist
on Earth, together with the functional relations among them. The world-
system probably should not be regarded as a self-prop system, but whether
it is or not is irrelevant for present purposes.
To summarize, then, the world-system is approaching a condition
in which it will be dominated by a relatively small number of extremely
powerful global self-prop systems. These global systems will compete for
power—as they must do in order to have any chance of survival—and they
will compete for power in the short term , with little or no regard for long¬
term consequences (Proposition 2). Under these conditions, intuition tells
us that desperate competition among the global self-prop systems will tear
the world-system apart.
Let’s try to formulate this intuition more clearly. For some hundreds
of millions of years the terrestrial environment has had some degree of sta¬
bility, in the sense that conditions on Earth, though variable, have remained
within limits that have allowed the evolution of complex life-forms such
as fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. In the immediate
future, all self-prop systems on this planet, including self-propagating
human groups and any purely machine-based systems derived from them,
will have evolved while conditions have remained within these limits, or
at most within somewhat wider ones. By Proposition 3, the Earth’s self¬
prop systems will have become dependent for their survival on the fact
that conditions have remained within these limits. Large-scale self-prop
human groups, as well as any purely machine-based self-prop systems, will
be dependent also on conditions of more recent origin relating to the way
the world-system is organized; for example, conditions relating to economic
relationships. The rapidity with which these conditions change must remain
within certain limits, else the self-prop systems will not survive.
This doesn’t mean that all of the world’s self-prop systems will die if
future conditions, or the rapidity with which they change, slightly exceed
some of these limits, but it does mean that if conditions go far enough
beyond the limits many self-prop systems are likely to die, and if conditions
ever vary wildly enough outside the limits, then, with near certainty, all
of the world’s more complex self-prop systems will die without progeny.
With several self-prop systems of global reach, armed with the
colossal might of modern technology and competing for immediate power
while exercising no restraint from concern for long-term consequences, it
is extremely difficult to imagine that conditions on this planet will not be
pushed far outside all earlier limits and batted around so erratically that
for any of the Earth’s more complex self-prop systems, including complex
biological organisms, the chances of survival will approach zero.
Chapter Two: Part II
Notice that the crucial new factor here is the availability of rapid,
worldwide transportation and communication, as a consequence of which
there exist global self-prop systems. There is another way of seeing that
this situation will lead to radical disruption of the world-system. Students
of industrial accidents know that a system is most likely to suffer a cata¬
strophic breakdown when (i) the system is highly complex (meaning that
small disruptions can produce unpredictable consequences), and (ii) tightly
coupled (meaning that a breakdown in one part of the system spreads
quickly to other parts). 11 The world-system has been highly complex for a
long time. What is new is that the world-system is now tightly coupled.
This is a result of the availability of rapid, worldwide transportation and
communication, which makes it possible for a breakdown in any one part
of the world-system to spread to all other parts. As technology progresses
and globalization grows more pervasive, the world-system becomes ever
more complex and more tightly coupled, so that a catastrophic breakdown
has to be expected sooner or later.
It will perhaps be argued that destructive competition among global
self-prop systems is not inevitable: A single global self-prop system might
succeed in eliminating all of its competitors and thereafter dominate the
world alone; or, because global self-prop systems would be relatively few
in number, they could come to an agreement among themselves whereby
they would refrain from all dangerous or destructive competition. However,
while it is easy to talk about such an agreement, it is vastly more difficult
actually to conclude one and enforce it. Just look: The world’s leading
powers today have not been able to agree on the elimination of war or of
nuclear weapons, or on the limitation of emissions of carbon dioxide.
But let’s be optimistic and assume that the world has come under the
domination of a single, unified system, which may consist of a single global
self-prop system victorious over all its rivals, or may be a composite of several
global self-prop systems that have bound themselves together through an
agreement that eliminates all destructive competition among them. The
resulting “world peace” will be unstable for three separate reasons.
First, the world-system will still be highly complex and tightly
coupled. Students of these matters recommend designing into industrial
systems such safety features as “decoupling,” that is, the introduction of
“barriers” that prevent malfunctions in one part of a system from spread¬
ing to other parts. 12 Such measures may be feasible, at least in theory, in
any relatively limited subsystem of the world-system, such as a chemical
factory, a nuclear power-plant, or a banking system, though Perrow 13 is
not optimistic that even these limited systems will ever be consistently
redesigned throughout our society to minimize the risk of breakdowns
within the individual systems. In regard to the world-system as a whole,
we noted above that it grows ever more complex and more tightly coupled.
To reverse this process and “decouple” the world-system would require the
design, implementation, and enforcement of an elaborate plan that would
regulate in detail the political and economic development of the entire
world. For reasons explained at length in Chapter One of this book, no
such plan will ever be carried out successfully.
Second , prior to the arrival of “world peace” and for the sake of their
own survival and propagation, the self-prop subsystems of a given global
self-prop system (their supersystem) will have put aside, or at least moder¬
ated, their mutual conflicts in order to present a united front against any
immediate external threats or challenges to the supersystem (which are
also threats or challenges to themselves). In fact, the supersystem would
never have been successful enough to become a global self-prop system if
competition among its most powerful self-prop subsystems had not been
But once a global self-prop system has eliminated its competitors, or
has entered into an agreement that frees it from dangerous competition from
other global self-prop systems, there will no longer be any immediate exter¬
nal threat to induce unity or a moderation of conflict among the self-prop
subsystems of the global self-prop system. In view of Proposition 2—which
tells us that self-prop systems will compete with little regard for long-term
consequences—unrestrained and therefore destructive competition will
break out among the most powerful self-prop subsystems of the global
self-prop system in question. 14
Benjamin Franklin pointed out that “the great affairs of the world, the
wars, revolutions, etc. are carried on and effected by parties.” Each of the
“parties,” according to Franklin, is pursuing its own collective advantage,
but “as soon as a party has gained its general point”—and therefore, presum¬
ably, no longer faces immediate conflict with an external adversary—“each
member becomes intent upon his particular interest, which, thwarting
others, breaks that party into divisions and occasions... confusion.” 15
History does generally confirm that when large human groups are
not held together by any immediate external challenge, they tend strongly
Chapter Two: Part II
to break up into factions that compete against one another with little regard
for long-term consequences. 16 What we are arguing here is that this does not
apply only to human groups, but expresses a tendency of self-propagating
systems in general as they develop under the influence of natural selection.
Thus, the tendency is independent of any flaws of character peculiar to
human beings, and the tendency will persist even if humans are “cured”
of their purported defects or (as many technophiles envision) are replaced
by intelligent machines.
Third , let’s nevertheless assume that the most powerful self-prop
subsystems of the global self-prop systems will not begin to compete
destructively when the external challenges to their supersystems have been
removed. There yet remains another reason why the “world peace” that
we’ve postulated will be unstable.
By Proposition 1, within the “peaceful” world-system new self-prop
systems will arise that, under the influence of natural selection, will evolve
increasingly subtle and sophisticated ways of evading recognition—or,
once they are recognized, evading suppression—by the dominant global
self-prop systems. By the same process that led to the evolution of global
self-prop systems in the first place, new self-prop systems of greater and
greater power will develop until some are powerful enough to challenge
the existing global self-prop systems, whereupon destructive competition
on a global scale will resume.
For the sake of clarity we have described the process in simplified
form, as if a world-system relatively free of dangerous competition would
first be established and afterward would be undone by new self-prop sys¬
tems that would arise. But it’s more likely that new self-prop systems will
be arising all along to challenge the existing global self-prop systems, and
will prevent the hypothesized “world peace” from ever being consolidated
in the first place. In fact, we can see this happening before our eyes. 17 The
most crudely obvious of the (relatively) new self-prop systems are those that
challenge law and order head on, such as terrorist networks and hackers’
groups, 18 as well as frankly criminal enterprises 19 that make no pretense of
idealistic motives. Drug cartels have disrupted the normal course of polit¬
ical life in Mexico; 20 terrorists did the same in the United States with the
attack of September 11,2001, and they are continuing to do so, much more
drastically, in countries like Iraq. Self-prop systems of the purely lawless
type even have the potential to take control of important nations, as drug
cartels arguably have come close to doing in Kenya. 21 Political “machines”
are not necessarily to be classified as criminal enterprises, but they ordi¬
narily are more or less corrupt and tainted with illegal activity, 22 and they
do challenge, or even take over, the “legitimate” structure of government.
Probably more significant for the present and the near future are
emerging self-prop systems that use entirely legal methods, or at least keep
their use of illegal methods to the minimum necessary for their purposes,
and justify those methods with a claim, not totally outrageous, that their
actions are necessary for the fulfillment of some widely accepted ideal
such as “democracy,” “social justice,” “prosperity,” “morality,” or religious
principles. In Israel, the ultra-orthodox sect—strictly legal—has become
surprisingly powerful and seriously threatens to subvert the values and
objectives of the hitherto secular state. 23 The great corporations, as we
know them today, are a relatively recent (and perfectly legal) development;
in the U.S. they date only from the latter half of the 19th century. 24 New
corporations are continually being formed, and some grow powerful enough
to challenge the older enterprises. During the last several decades many
corporations have become international, and their power has begun to rival
that of nation-states. 25
A subordinate system that a government creates for its own purposes
can turn into a self-prop system in its own right, and may even become
dominant over the government. Thus, bureaucracies commonly are con¬
cerned more with their own power and security than with the fulfillment
of their public responsibilities. 26 “[Ejvery... bureaucracy develops a tendency
to preserve itself, to fatten itself parasitically. It also develops a tendency
to become a power in and of itself, autonomous, over which governments
lose all real control.” 27 A nation’s military establishment often acquires a
considerable degree of autonomy and then supplants the government as the
dominant political force in the country. Nowadays the undisguised military
coup seems less popular than it once was, and politically sophisticated
generals prefer to exercise their power behind the scenes while allowing a
facade of civilian government to function. When the generals find it nec¬
essary to intervene overtly they claim to be acting in favor of “democracy”
or some such ideal. This type of military dominance can be seen today in
Pakistan and Egypt. 28
Two competing, entirely legal self-prop systems that have arisen in
the U.S. during the last few decades are the politically correct left and the
dogmatic right (not to be confused with the liberals and conservatives of
earlier times in America). This book is not the place to speculate about the
Chapter Two: Part II
outcome of the struggle between these two forces; suffice it to say that in
the long run their bitter conflict may do more to prevent the establishment
of a lastingly peaceful world order than all the bombs of A1 Qaeda and all
the murders of the Mexican drug gangs.
People who find it difficult to face harsh realities will hope for a way
to design and construct a world-system in which the processes that lead to
destructive competition will not occur. But in Chapter One we’ve explained
why no such project can ever be successfully carried out in practice. It may be
objected that a mammal (or other complex biological organism) is a self-prop
system that is a composite of millions of other self-prop systems, namely,
the cells of its own body. Yet (unless and until the animal gets cancer) no
destructive competition arises among cells or groups of cells within the
animal’s body. Instead, all the cells loyally serve the interests of the animal
as a whole. Moreover, no external threat to the animal is necessary to keep
the cells faithful to their duty. There is (it may be argued) no reason why the
world-system could not be as well organized as the body of a mammal, so
that no destructive competition would arise among its self-prop subsystems.
But the body of a mammal is a product of hundreds of millions of
years of evolution through natural selection. This means that it has been
created through a process of trial and error involving many millions of
successive trials. If we suppose the duration of a generation to be a period
of time A, those members of the first generation that contributed to the
second generation by producing offspring were only those that passed the
test of selection over time A. Those lineages 29 that survived to the third
generation were only those that passed the test of selection over time 2A.
Those lineages that survived to the fourth generation were only those that
passed the test of selection over time 3A. And so forth. Those lineages
that survived to the Nth generation were only those that passed the test of
selection over the time-interval (N-l)A as well as the test of selection over
every shorter time-interval. Though the foregoing explanation is grossly
simplified, it shows that in order to have survived up to the present, a lin¬
eage of organisms has to have passed the test of selection many millions
of times and over all time-intervals, short, medium, and long. To put it
another way, the lineage has had to pass through a series of many millions
of filters, each of which has allowed the passage only of those lineages
that were “fittest” (in the Darwinian sense) to survive over time-intervals
of widely varying length. It is only through this process that the body of a
mammal has evolved, with its incredibly subtle and complex mechanisms
that promote the survival of the animal’s lineage at short, medium, and long
term. These mechanisms include those that prevent destructive competition
among cells or groups of cells within the animal’s body.
Also highly important is the large number of individuals in each
generation of a biological organism. A species that has had a close brush
with extinction may at some point have been reduced to a few thousand
individuals, but any mammalian species, through almost all of its evolu¬
tionary history since its first appearance as a multi-celled organism, has had
millions of individuals in each generation from among which the “fittest”
have been selected.
But once self-propagating systems have attained global scale, two
crucial differences emerge. The first difference is in the number of indi¬
viduals from among which the “fittest” are selected. Self-prop systems
sufficiently big and powerful to be plausible contenders for global domi¬
nance will probably number in the dozens, or possibly in the hundreds; they
certainly will not number in the millions. With so few individuals from
among which to select the “fittest,” it seems safe to say that the process of
natural selection will be inef ficient in promoting the fitness for survival of
the dominant global self-prop systems. 30 It should also be noted that among
biological organisms, species that consist of a relatively small number of
large individuals are more vulnerable to extinction than species that con¬
sist of a large number of small individuals. 31 Though the analogy between
biological organisms and self-propagating systems of human beings is far
from perfect, still the prospect for viability of a world-system based on the
dominance of a few global self-prop systems does not look encouraging.
The second difference is that in the absence of rapid, worldwide
transportation and communication, the breakdown or the destructive action
of a small-scale self-prop system has only local repercussions. Outside the
limited zone where such a self-prop system has been active there will be
other self-prop systems among which the process of evolution through
natural selection will continue. But where rapid, worldwide transportation
and communication have led to the emergence of global self-prop systems,
the breakdown or the destructive action of any one such system can shake
the whole world-system. Consequently, in the process of trial and error that
is evolution through natural selection, it is highly probable that after only
a relatively small number of “trials” resulting in “errors,” the world-system
will break down or will be so severely disrupted that none of the world’s
Chapter Two: Part II
larger or more complex self-prop systems will be able to survive. Thus,
for such self-prop systems, the trial-and-error process comes to an end;
evolution through natural selection cannot continue long enough to create
global self-prop systems possessing the subtle and sophisticated mechanisms
that prevent destructive internal competition within complex biological
Meanwhile, fierce competition among global self-prop systems will
have led to such drastic and rapid alterations in the Earth’s climate, the
composition of its atmosphere, the chemistry of its oceans, and so forth,
that the effect on the biosphere will be devastating. In Part IV of the present
chapter we will carry this line of inquiry further: We will argue that if the
development of the technological world-system is allowed to proceed to
its logical conclusion, then in all probability the Earth will be left a dead
planet—a planet on which nothing will remain alive except, maybe, some
of the simplest organisms—certain bacteria, algae, etc.—that are capable
of surviving under extreme conditions.
The theory we’ve outlined here provides a plausible explanation for
the so-called Fermi Paradox. It is believed that there should be numerous
planets on which technologically advanced civilizations have evolved, and
which are not so remote from us that we could not by this time have detected
their radio transmissions. The Fermi Paradox consists in the fact that our
astronomers have never yet been able to detect any radio signals that seem
to have originated from an intelligent extraterrestrial source. 32
According to Ray Kurzweil, one common explanation of the Fermi
Paradox is “that a civilization may obliterate itself once it reaches radio
capability.” Kurzweil continues: “This explanation might be acceptable if
we were talking about only a few such civilizations, but [if such civilizations
have been numerous], it is not credible to believe that every one of them
destroyed itself.” 33 Kurzweil would be right if the self-destruction of a civ¬
ilization were merely a matter of chance. But there is nothing implausible
about the foregoing explanation of the Fermi Paradox if there is a process
common to all technologically advanced civilizations that consistently leads
them to self-destruction. Here we’ve been arguing that there is such a
III. Our discussion of self-propagating systems merely describes in
general and abstract terms what we see going on all around us in concrete
form: Organizations, movements, ideologies are locked in an unremitting
struggle for power. Those that fail to compete successfully are eliminated
or subjugated. 34 The struggle is almost exclusively for power in the short
term; 35 the competitors show scant concern even for their own long-term
survival, 36 let alone for the welfare of the human race or of the biosphere.
That’s why nuclear weapons have not been banned, emissions of carbon
dioxide have not been reduced to a safe level, the Earth’s resources are being
exploited at an utterly reckless rate, and no limitation has been placed on
the development of powerful but dangerous technologies.
The purpose of describing the process in general and abstract terms,
as we’ve done here, is to show that what is happening to our world is not
accidental; it is not the result of some chance conjunction of historical cir¬
cumstances or of some flaw of character peculiar to human beings. Given
the nature of self-propagating systems in general, the destructive process
that we see today is made inevitable by a combination of two factors: the
colossal power of modern technology and the availability of rapid trans¬
portation and communication between any two parts of the world.
Recognition of this may help us to avoid wasting time on naive efforts
to solve our current problems. For example, on efforts to teach people to
conserve energy and resources. Such efforts accomplish nothing whatever.
It seems amazing that those who advocate energy conservation haven’t
noticed what happens: As soon as some energy is freed up by conservation,
the technological world-system gobbles itup and demands more. No matter
how much energy is provided, the system always expands rapidly until it
is using all available energy, and then it demands still more. The same is
true of other resources. The technological world-system infallibly expands
until it reaches a limit imposed by an insufficiency of resources, and then
it tries to push beyond that limit regardless of consequences.
This is explained by the theory of self-propagating systems: Those
organizations (or other self-prop systems) that least allow respect for the
environment to interfere with their pursuit of power here and now, tend
to acquire more power than those that limit their pursuit of power from
concern about what will happen to our environment fifty years from now, or
even ten years. (Proposition 2.) Thus, through a process of natural selection,
the world comes to be dominated by organizations that make maximum
Chapter Two: Part III
possible use of all available resources to augment their own power without
regard to long-term consequences.
Environmental do-gooders may answer that if the public has been per¬
suaded to take environmental concerns seriously it will be disadvantageous
in terms of natural selection for an organization to abuse the environment,
because citizens can offer resistance to environmentally reckless organiza¬
tions. For example, people might refuse to buy products manufactured by
companies that are environmentally destructive. However, human behavior
and human attitudes can be manipulated. Environmental damage can be
shielded, up to a point, from public scrutiny; with the help of public-rela¬
tions firms, a corporation can persuade people that it is environmentally
responsible; advertising and marketing techniques can give people such an
itch to possess a corporation’s products that few individuals will refuse to
buy them from concern for the environment; computer games, electronic
social networking, and other mechanisms of escape keep people absorbed in
hedonistic pursuits so that they don’t have time for environmental worries.
More importantly, people are made to see themselves as utterly dependent
on the products and services provided by the corporations. Because people
have to earn money to buy the products and services on which they are
dependent, they need jobs. Economic growth is necessary for the creation of
jobs, therefore people accept environmental damage when it is portrayed as
a price that must be paid for economic growth. Nationalism too is brought
into play both by corporations and by governments. Citizens are made to
feel that outside forces are threatening: “The Chinese will get ahead of
us if we don’t increase our rate of economic growth. A1 Qaeda will blow
us up if we don’t improve our technology and our weaponry fast enough.”
These are some of the tools that organizations use to counter envi¬
ronmentalists’ efforts to arouse public concern; similar tools can help to
blunt other forms of resistance to the organizations’ pursuit of power. The
organizations that are most successful in blunting public resistance to their
pursuit of power tend to increase their power more rapidly than organiza¬
tions that are less successful in blunting public resistance. Thus, through a
process of natural selection, there evolve organizations that possess more
and more sophisticated and effective means of blunting public resistance
to their power-seeking activities, whatever the degree of environmental
damage involved. Because such organizations have great wealth at their
disposal, environmentalists do not have the resources to compete with them
in the propaganda war. 37
This is the reason, or an important part of the reason, 38 why attempts
to teach people to be environmentally responsible have done so little to slow
the destruction of our environment. And again—note well—the process
we’ve described is not contingent on any accidental set of circumstances or
on any defect in human character. Given the availability of advanced tech¬
nology, the process inevitably accompanies the action of natural selection
upon self-propagating systems.
IV. People who know something about the biological past of
the Earth and see what the technological system is doing to our planet
speak of a “sixth mass extinction,” which they think is now in progress.
Apparently they envision something like the extinction event at the end
of the Cretaceous period, when the dinosaurs died out: They assume that
many kinds of complex organisms will survive, and the species that become
extinct will be replaced by complex organisms of a different kind, just as the
dinosaurs were replaced by mammals. 39 Here we argue that this (relatively)
comforting assumption is unjustified, because the extinction event that has
now begun is of a fundamentally different kind than all of the previous
mass extinctions that have occurred on this planet.
So far as is known, each previous mass extinction has resulted from
the arrival of some one major disruptive factor, or at most perhaps two or
three such factors. 40 Thus, it is widely believed that the dinosaurs were
wiped out by the impact of an asteroid that kicked up colossal clouds of dust.
These obstructed the light of the Sun, cooling the planet and interfering
with photosynthesis. 41 Presumably, mammals were better able to survive
under these conditions than the dinosaurs were. There are paleontologists
who argue that some species of dinosaurs survived for as long as a million
years after the impact of the asteroid, hence, that the asteroid alone was
not enough to account for all the extinctions that occurred at the end of
the Cretaceous. The dinosaurs, they maintain, must have been finished
off by some other factor—perhaps a prolonged period of unusual volcanic
activity that continued to darken the atmosphere. 42 In any case, no one
claims that more than a very few such factors—all of them simple, blind
forces—were involved in the extinction of the dinosaurs or in other, pre¬
vious mass extinctions.
In contrast to these earlier events, the extinction event that is now
under way is not the work of a single blind force or even of two or three or
ten such forces. Instead, it is the work of a multiplicity of intelligent, living
Chapter Two: Part IV
forces. These are human organizations, self-prop systems that assiduously
pursue their own short-term advantage without scruple and without concern
for long-term consequences. In doing so they leave no stone unturned, no
possibility untested, no avenue unexplored in their unremitting drive for
This can be compared to what happens in biology: In the course of
evolution organisms develop means of exploiting every opportunity, utiliz¬
ing every resource, and invading every corner where life is possible at all.
Scientists have been surprised to discover living organisms surviving, and
in some cases even thriving, in locations where there seemingly is nothing
on which they could support themselves. There are communities of bac¬
teria, worms, molluscs, and crustaceans that flourish near hydrothermal
vents so deep in the ocean that no sunlight whatever can reach them and
the downward drift of nutrients from the surface is entirely inadequate.
Some of these creatures actually use hydrogen sulfide—to most organisms
a deadly poison—as a source of energy. 43 Elsewhere there are bacteria that
live a hundred feet beneath the seafloor in an environment almost com¬
pletely devoid of nutrients. 44 Other bacteria nourish themselves on nothing
more than “bare rock and water” at depths of up to 1.7 miles beneath the
surface of the continents. 45 Everyone knows that there are organisms called
parasites that find a home within other organisms, but many people may be
surprised to learn that there are parasites that live in or on other parasites;
in fact, there are parasites of parasites of parasites of parasites. 46 (One recalls
the lines of Samuel Butler: “All great fleas have little fleas to bite 'em, and
these have smaller still, and so ad infinitum.” 47 )
Needless to say, there do exist limits to the conditions under which
life can survive. E.g., it has been questioned whether there can ever be a
“general mechanism by which any conventional protein could be made stable
and functional at temperatures above 100° C.” 48 Yet some organisms do
live at temperatures as high as 113° C., though none is known to survive
and reproduce at a higher temperature. 49
Like biological organisms, the world’s leading human self-prop sys¬
tems exploit every opportunity, utilize every resource, and invade every
corner where they can find anything that will be of use to them in their
endless search for power. And as technology advances, more and more of
what formerly seemed useless turns out to be useful after all, so that more
and more resources are extracted, more and more corners are invaded, and
more and more destructive consequences follow. For example:
When humans made no use of metals other than iron meteorites, or
nuggets of gold or copper that might be found by chance, the only mining
activity consisted in the digging-out of rocks such as flint or obsidian that
were used to make tools. But once people learned to utilize metals on a
large scale the destructive effects of mining became evident. Certainly by
the 16th century, and probably much earlier, it was clearly recognized that
mining poisoned streams and rivers and ruined the countryside where it
occurred. 50 But in those days mining affected only a few districts where
there were known deposits of relatively high-grade ore, and people who
lived elsewhere probably never gave a thought to the damage caused by the
extraction of metals. In recent times, however, more sophisticated means
of detecting deposits of valuable minerals have been devised, 51 as well as
methods for utilizing low-grade ores that formerly were left undisturbed
because the extraction of metal from them was too difficult to be profit¬
able. 52 As a result of these developments mining activities have continually
invaded new areas, and severe environmental damage has followed. 53 It
is said that the water flowing out of many old mining sites is so heavily
contaminated that it will have to be treated “forever” to remove the toxic
metals. 54 Of course, it won’t be treated forever, and when the treatment
stops, rivers will be irremediably poisoned.
Mining activities are invading still other areas because new uses have
been found for elements that several decades ago had few if any practical
applications. Most of the “rare earth” elements were of limited utility before
the middle of the 20th century, but they are now considered indispensable
for many purposes. 55 The rare earth neodymium, for example, is needed
in large quantities for the lightweight permanent magnets used in wind
turbines. 56 Unfortunately, most deposits of rare earths contain radioactive
thorium, hence the mining of these metals generates radioactive waste. 57
In quantitative terms, at least, uranium was of little importance
prior to the development of atomic weapons and nuclear power-plants; it
is now mined on a large scale. Relatively small amounts of arsenic were
no doubt sufficient for medical applications and for the manufacture of rat
poison and artists’ pigments, but today the element is used in large quan¬
tities, e.g., to harden lead alloys and as a wood preservative. Fence posts
treated with cupric arsenate are extremely common in the western United
States 58 —there must be many millions of them. These posts last far longer
than untreated ones, but they are not indestructible. They will eventually
disintegrate, and when they do the arsenic they contain will spread through
Chapter Two: Part IV
our environment. Large-scale mining and utilization of other toxic and/
or carcinogenic elements such as mercury, lead, and cadmium are likewise
spreading them everywhere. Cleanup efforts are so puny in relation to the
magnitude of the problem that they are little better than a joke.
The extraction and processing of other resources have followed sim¬
ilar trajectories. Petroleum, long known as a substance that seeped from
the ground in places, originally had few uses. But during the 19th century
it was discovered that kerosene, distilled from petroleum, could be burned
for illumination in lamps, and for that purpose was superior to whale oil.
As a result of this discovery the first “oil well” was drilled in Pennsylvania
in 1859, and drilling elsewhere soon followed. The petroleum industry at
that time was based mainly on kerosene; there was little demand for other
petroleum products, such as natural gas and gasoline. But natural gas later
came to be used on a large scale for heating, cooking, and illumination,
and after the advent of the gasoline-powered automobile around the begin¬
ning of the 20th century the petroleum industry won a position of central
importance in the economy of the industrialized world. From that time
on, new uses for petroleum products have continually been discovered. In
addition, processes have been developed for transforming hydrocarbons
so that formerly useless petroleum distillates can be turned into useful
products, and oil deposits that, because of their undesirable characteristics
(e.g., high sulfur content), might not have been worth extracting, can now
be made valuable. 59
Oil companies have come up with ever more sophisticated meth¬
ods for locating petroleum deposits, and this is one of the reasons why
estimates of “known oil reserves” keep increasing. But the estimates also
increase because previously inaccessible petroleum is made accessible by
new technologies that make it profitable to extract petroleum (including
natural gas) from ever more difficult sources. Drillers penetrate deeper
and deeper into the Earth’s crust, and are even able to drill horizontally;
“fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) releases new reserves of oil, and especially
gas, from shale rock; techniques are under development for utilizing the vast
deposits of methane hydrate found on the ocean floor. 60 As a result of all
these technical advances more and more of the Earth’s surface is raped by
the petroleum industry, and for humans who get in the way it’s just tough
luck. Fracking, for example, is not a benign technique; 61 at least one woman
who was affected by it felt that her life had been ruined. 62
Anyone who thinks the technological world-system is ever going
to stop burning fossil fuels (while any are left) is dreaming. 63 But whether
or not the system ever renounces such fuels, other destructive sources of
energy will be utilized. Nuclear power-plants generate radioactive waste;
no provably safe way of disposing of such waste has yet been indentified, 64
and the world’s leading self-prop systems aren’t even trying very hard to
find a permanent home for the accumulating radioactive garbage. 65 Of
course, the self-prop systems need energy for the maintenance of their
power here and now, whereas radioactive waste represents only a danger
for the future and, as we’ve emphasized, natural selection favors self-prop
systems that compete for power in the present with little regard for long¬
term consequences. So nuclear power-plants continue to be built, while the
problem of dealing with their burned-out fuel is largely neglected. In fact,
the problem of nuclear waste is on track to become totally unmanageable
because, instead of a few of the big, old-style reactors, numerous small
ones (“mini-nukes”) will soon be built, 66 so that every little town can have
its own nuclear power-plant. 67 With the big, old-style reactors at least the
radioactive wastes have been concentrated at a relatively small number of
sites, but with numerous mini-nukes scattered over the world radioactive
wastes will be everywhere. One would have to be extraordinarily naive,
or else gifted with a remarkable capacity for self-deception, to believe that
each little two-bit burg is going to handle its nuclear waste responsibly. In
practice, much of the radioactive material will escape into the environment.
“Green” energy sources aren’t going to wean the system from its
dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. But even if they did, green
energy sources don’t look so green when one examines them closely. “There’s
no free lunch when it comes to meeting our energy needs,” says the director
of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s land program. “To get energy,
we need to do things that will have impacts.” 68
The construction of wind farms entails the creation of radioactive
waste because, as noted earlier, the lightweight permanent magnets in wind
turbines require the rare-earth element neodymium. In addition, wind
farms kill numerous birds, which fly into the “propellers” of the turbines. 69
Large numbers of new wind-farms are planned in the U.S., China, and
presumably other countries as well, 70 and a likely result will be the exter¬
mination of many species of birds. “Shawn Smallwood, a Davis, Calif,
ecologist and researcher [said:] ‘Just the sheer numbers of turbines we’re
talking about—we’re going to be killing so many raptors until there are no
Chapter Two: Part IV
more raptors in my opinion.’” 71 Raptors play an important role in controlling
rodent populations, so when the raptors are gone more pesticides will have
to be used to kill rodents.
The United States has been developing a military robot called the
EATR that relies on green energy inasmuch as it “fuels itself by eating
whatever biomass”—a renewable resource—“it finds around it.” 72 But you
can imagine the devastation that would result from a war fought by armies of
robots that gobble for fuel whatever biomass they find. And if the biomass-
gobbling technology is ever adapted to civilian use, it will endanger every
living thing that can be used to satisfy the system’s always ravenous appetite
But solar energy is harmless, right? Well, not quite, for solar panels
compete with biological organisms for the light of the Sun. Let’s recall what
we pointed out earlier, that the technological system invariably expands
until it is using all available energy, and then it demands more. If fossil
fuels and nuclear power aren’t going to satisfy the system’s ever-growing
demand for energy, 73 then solar panels will be placed wherever sunlight
can be collected. This means, inter alia, that solar panels will progressively
invade the habitats of living things, depriving them of sunlight and there¬
fore killing most of them. This is not speculation—the process has already
begun. There are plans “to create huge solar energy plants in the deserts
of California, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere in the West. ... The open
deserts are prime habitat for threatened plants and animals... .” 74 According
to Janine Blaeloch, executive director of the Western Lands Project, “These
[solar energy] plants will introduce a huge amount of damage to our public
land and habitat.” 75 And remember, the system’s appetite for energy is insa¬
tiable: In all probability, the development of solar energy will expand until
there is no habitat left for living organisms other than the domesticated
crops that the system grows to satisfy its own needs.
But there is much more to be taken into account. Notwithstanding
the folly of Ray Kurzweil’s fantasies of a future technological utopia, he is
absolutely right about some things. He quite correctly points out that in
thinking about the future most people make two errors: (i) They “consider
the transformations that will result from a single trend [or from several
specified trends that are already evident] in today’s world as if nothing else
will change.” 76 And (ii) they “intuitively assume that the current rate of
progress will continue for future periods,” neglecting the unending accel¬
eration of technological development. 77 In order to avoid falling into these
errors ourselves, we have to remember that the assaults on the terrestrial
environment that are known and observable now will not in future be the
only ones. Just as the use of petroleum distillates in internal combustion
engines was undreamed of before 1860 at the earliest, 78 just as the use of
uranium as fuel was undreamed of before the discovery of nuclear fission
in 1938-39, 79 just as most uses of the rare earths were undreamed of until
recent decades, so there will be future uses of resources, future ways of
exploiting the environment, future corners for the technological system to
invade that at present are still undreamed of. In attempting to estimate the
coming damage to our environment, we can’t just project into the future
the effects of currently known causes of environmental harm; we have to
assume that new causes of environmental harm, which no one today can
even imagine, will emerge in the future. Moreover, we have to remember
that the growth of technology, and with it the exacerbation of the harm
that technology does to our environment, will accelerate ever more rapidly
over the coming decades. All this being taken into consideration we have
to conclude that, in all probability, little or nothing on our planet will much
longer remain free of gross disruption by the technological system.
Most people take our atmosphere for granted, as if Providence had
decreed once and for all that air should consist of 78% nitrogen, 21%
oxygen, and 1% other gasses. In reality our atmosphere in its present form
was created, and is still maintained, through the action of living things. 80
Originally the atmosphere contained far more carbon dioxide than it does
today, 81 and we may wonder why the greenhouse effect didn’t make the
Earth too hot for life ever to begin. The answer, presumably, is that the
Sun at that time radiated much less energy than it does now. 82 In any case,
it was the biosphere that took the excess carbon dioxide out of the air:
As primitive bacteria and cyanobacteria had, through photosynthesis
or related life processes, captured atmospheric carbon, depositing it
on the seafloor, carbon was removed from the atmosphere. ...
Cyanobacteria also were the first organisms to utilize water
as a source of electrons and hydrogen in the photosynthetic process.
Free oxygen was released as a result of this reaction and began to
accumulate in the atmosphere, allowing oxygen-dependent life-forms
to evolve. 83
Chapter Two: Part IV
Biological processes also affect the amount of methane in the atmo¬
sphere, 84 and let’s remember that methane has a far more powerful effect in
promoting global warming than carbon dioxide does. 85 On the other hand,
some experts claim that 3.7 billion years ago certain microbes generated
large quantities of methane that, instead of warming the planet, cooled it
by creating clouds that reflected sunlight back into space. Supposedly,
the Earth narrowly escaped becoming too cold for the survival of life. 86
However that may be, it’s evident that a really radical disruption of the
biosphere could cause an atmospheric disaster: a lack of oxygen, a con¬
centration of toxic gasses such as methane or ammonia, a deficiency or an
excess of carbon dioxide that would make our planet too cold or too hot
to support life.
At present, the most imminent danger seems to be the possible over¬
heating of the Earth through an excess in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide
and perhaps methane. 87 Just how hot might the Earth get if humans con¬
tinue to burn fossil fuels? About 56 million years ago there was a massive
increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, estimated to
be roughly equal to the amount that would be added now if humans burned
off “all the Earth’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas.” 88 The result was
a radical change in the terrestrial environment, including a 9° F (5° C)
rise in average temperatures 89 and the flooding of substantial parts of the
continents. 90 There weren’t any mass extinctions, 91 but this should give us
no sense of security about the future of the biosphere, because we can’t
assume that the effect of adding a given amount of carbon dioxide to the
atmosphere today will be the same as what it was 56 million years ago. 92
The carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere 56 million years ago
was probably added relatively slowly, over thousands of years. 93 If humans
now burn off all petroleum reserves they undoubtedly will do so in a small
fraction of that time, hence living organisms will have little opportunity
to adapt to their changed environment. Moreover, the presumed equiv¬
alence of the amount of carbon dioxide being released today with what
was released 56 million years ago is based on an estimate of the Earth’s
fossil-fuel reserves that almost certainly is far too low, for new and unex¬
pected deposits of oil and natural gas are continually being discovered and
estimates of the reserves are correspondingly raised. Account must also be
taken of other ways in which humans add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
For example, vast quantities of limestone are “burned” to make lime and
Portland cement: CaC0 3 —» CaO + C0 2 . It’s not clear how much of the
carbon dioxide (C0 2 ) is eventually recaptured by the lime (CaO) or how
long that takes.
But even if the Earth warms no more than it did 56 million years
ago, the consequences will be unacceptable to the powerful classes in our
society. The world’s dominant self-prop systems will therefore resort to
“geo-engineering,” that is, to a system of artificial manipulation of the
atmosphere designed to keep temperatures within acceptable limits. 94 The
implementation of geo-engineering will entail immediate, desperate risks, 95
and even if no immediate disaster ensues the eventual consequences very
likely will be catastrophic. 96
All this relates merely to the greenhouse effect. To it we have to
add numerous other factors that tend to disrupt the biosphere. As we’ve
seen, living organisms will be progressively robbed of sunlight by contin¬
ual expansion of the system’s solar-energy installations. There will be no
limit to the contamination of our environment with radioactive waste, with
toxic elements such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium, 97 and with a
variety of poisonous chemical compounds. 98 There will be oil spills from
time to time, since the safety measures taken by the petroleum industry
are never quite sufficient, 99 and in some parts of the world the industry
doesn’t even make any serious effort to prevent spills. 100 The phasing-out
of chlorofluorocarbons is supposed to allow the ozone layer, which protects
living organisms from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, to recover from the
damage it has already suffered, but the recovery (if indeed it occurs) will
take decades, 101 and meanwhile the damage that ultraviolet radiation does
to the biosphere has to be taken into account.
The foregoing effects of the technological system’s activities have long
been recognized as harmful, but there can be little doubt that many effects
not recognized as harmful today will turn out to be harmful tomorrow,
for this has often happened in the past. 102 “It has been estimated that the
modern sediment loads of the rivers draining into the Atlantic Ocean may
be four to five times greater than the prehistoric rates because of the effects
of human activity.” 103 How, in the long run, will this affect life in the ocean?
Does anyone know? Genes from genetically engineered organisms can, and
almost certainly will, be passed to wild plants or animals. 104 What will be
the ultimate consequences for the biosphere of this “genetic pollution?” No
one knows. Even if these and other effects turn out to be harmless when
considered separately and individually, all of the “harmless” effects of the
Chapter Two: Part IV
system’s activities taken together will surely bring about major alterations
in the biosphere.
Here we’ve done no more than scratch the surface. A full assessment
of the ways in which the functioning of the technological world-system
currently threatens to disrupt the biosphere would require a vast amount of
research, and the results would fill several volumes. W ill all of these factors
add up to a disruption of the biosphere sufficient to prevent it from perform¬
ing its function in maintaining the present composition of our atmosphere?
It’s anybody’s guess. But that’s not all: Let’s not forget that the technological
system is still in its infancy in comparison with what it will become over
the next several decades. At a rapidly accelerating pace and in ways that no
one has yet imagined, we can expect the world’s leading self-prop systems
to find more and more opportunities to exploit, more and more resources
to extract, more and more corners to invade, until little or nothing on this
planet is left free of technological intervention—intervention that will be
carried out in a mad quest for immediate increments of power and without
regard to long-term consequences. In the opinion of this writer, there is a
strong probability that if the biosphere is not destroyed outright it will at
least be rendered incapable of maintaining any reasonable approximation
to the present composition of our atmosphere, without which none of the
more complex forms of life on this planet will be able to survive.
One plausible outcome might be that the Earth will end up like the
It has been suggested that the climate of the Earth could be ulti¬
mately unstable. Addition of gasses capable of trapping heat could
accelerate the release of H 2 0 and raise the temperature to a point
where the oceans would evaporate... . Some believe that such changes
may have occurred on Venus... . Venus is a striking example of the
importance of the greenhouse effect. Its atmosphere contains a large
concentration of C0 2 [= carbon dioxide]... . [T]he Venusian surface
temperature is much hotter than the Earth’s—about 780° K [507° C
or 944° F]—in spite of the fact that Venus absorbs less energy from
the Sun because of its ubiquitous cloud cover... .” 105
To sum up the thesis of this part of the present chapter: If the develop¬
ment of the technological world-system is allowed to proceed to its logical
conclusion, it will in all probability leave the Earth uninhabitable for all of
the more complex forms of life as we know them today. This admittedly
remains unproven; it represents the author’s personal opinion. But the facts
and arguments offered here are enough at least to show that the opinion
can be entertained as a plausible hypothesis, and that it would be rash to
assume without further proof that the denouement we are facing will be
no worse than earlier extinction events in the Earth’s history.
What can be taken as a near certainty is that —if the development of
the technological system is allowed to proceed to its logical conclusion—the
outcome for the biosphere will be thoroughly devastating; if it isn’t worse
than the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous when the dinosaurs
disappeared, it can’t be much better; if any humans are left alive, they will
be very few; and the technological system itself will be dead.
But note the reservation in the foregoing statement: “if the devel¬
opment of the technological system is allowed to proceed to its logical
conclusion,” The author has occasionally been asked: “If the system is going
to destroy itself anyway, then why bother to overthrow it?” The answer,
of course, is that if the technological system were eliminated now a great
deal could still be saved. The longer the system is allowed to continue its
development, the worse will be the outcome for the biosphere and for the
human race, and the greater will be the risk that the Earth will be left a
dead planet. 106
V. The techies wet-dreams. There is a current of thought that appears
to be carrying many technophiles out of the realm of science and into
that of science fiction. 107 For convenience, let’s refer to those who ride
this current as “the techies.” The current runs through several channels;
not all techies think alike. What they have in common is that they take
highly speculative ideas about the future of technology as near certainties,
and on that basis predict the arrival within the next few decades of a kind
of technological utopia. Some of the techies’ fantasies are astonishingly
grandiose. For example, Ray Kurzweil believes that “[wjithin a matter of
centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the
matter in the universe.” 108 The writing of Kevin Kelly, another techie, is
often so vague as to border on the meaningless, but he seems to say much
the same thing that Kurzweil does about human conquest of the universe:
“The universe is mostly empty because it is waiting to be filled with the
products oflife and the technium... ,” 109 “The technium” is Kelly’s name for
the technological world-system that humans have created here on Earth. 110
Chapter Two: Part V
Most versions of the technological utopia include immortality (at
least for techies) among their other marvels. The immortality to which the
techies believe themselves destined is conceived in any one of three forms:
(i) the indefinite preservation of the living human body as it exists
(ii) the merging of humans with machines and the indefinite survival
of the resulting man-machine hybrids; 112
(iii) the “uploading” of minds from human brains into robots or
computers, after which the uploaded minds are to live forever within the
Of course, if the technological world-system is going to collapse in
the not-too-distant future, as we’ve argued it must, then no one is going to
achieve immortality in any form. But even assuming that we’re wrong and
that the technological world-system will survive indefinitely, the techies’
dream of an unlimited life-span is still illusory. We need not doubt that
it will be technically feasible in the future to keep a human body, or a
man-machine hybrid, alive indefinitely. It is seriously to be doubted that
it will ever be feasible to “upload” a human brain into electronic form with
sufficient accuracy so that the uploaded entity can reasonably be regarded as
a functioning duplicate of the original brain. Nevertheless, we will assume
in what follows that each of the solutions (i), (ii), and (iii) will become
technically feasible at some time within the next several decades.
It is an index of the techies’ self-deception that they habitually
assume that anything they consider desirable will actually be done when it
becomes technically feasible. Of course, there are lots of wonderful things
that already are and for a long time have been technically feasible, but
don’t get done. Intelligent people have said again and again: “How easily
men could make things much better than they are—if they only all tried
together!” 114 But people never do “all try together,” because the principle
of natural selection guarantees that self-prop systems will act mainly for
their own survival and propagation in competition with other self-prop
systems, and will not sacrifice competitive advantages for the achievement
of philanthropic goals. 115
Because immortality, as the techies conceive it, will be technically
feasible, the techies take it for granted that some system to which they
belong can and will keep them alive indefinitely, or provide them with what
they need to keep themselves alive. Today it would no doubt be technically
feasible to provide everyone in the world with everything that he or she
needs in the way of food, clothing, shelter, protection from violence, and
what by present standards is considered adequate medical care—if only
all of the world’s more important self-propagating systems would devote
themselves unreservedly to that task. But that never happens, because the
self-prop systems are occupied primarily with the endless struggle for power
and therefore act philanthropically only when it is to their advantage to do
so. That’s why billions of people in the world today suffer from malnutrition,
or are exposed to violence, or lack what is considered adequate medical care.
In view of all this, it is patently absurd to suppose that the technolog¬
ical world-system is ever going to provide seven billion human beings with
everything they need to stay alive indefinitely. If the projected immortal¬
ity were possible at all, it could only be for some tiny subset of the seven
billion—an elite minority. Some techies acknowledge this. 116 One has to
suspect that a great many more recognize it but refrain from acknowledging
it openly, for it is obviously imprudent to tell the public that immortality
will be for an elite minority only and that ordinary people will be left out.
The techies of course assume that they themselves will be included
in the elite minority that supposedly will be kept alive indefinitely. What
they find convenient to overlook is that self-prop systems, in the long run,
will take care of human beings—even members of the elite—only to the
extent that it is to the systems’ advantage to take care of them. When they
are no longer useful to the dominant self-prop systems, humans—elite or
not—will be eliminated. In order to survive, humans not only will have to be
useful; they will have to be more useful in relation to the cost of maintaining
them—in other words, they will have to provide a better cost-versus-benefit
balance—than any non-human substitutes. This is a tall order, for humans
are far more costly to maintain than machines are. 117
It will be answered that many self-prop systems—governments,
corporations, labor unions, etc.—do take care of numerous individuals
who are utterly useless to them: old people, people with severe mental or
physical disabilities, even criminals serving life sentences. But this is only
because the systems in question still need the services of the majority of
people in order to function. Humans have been endowed by evolution
with feelings of compassion, because hunting-and-gathering bands thrive
best when their members show consideration for one another and help one
another. 118 As long as self-prop systems still need people, it would be to the
systems’ disadvantage to offend the compassionate feelings of the useful
majority through ruthless treatment of the useless minority. More important
Chapter Two: Part V
than compassion, however, is the self-interest of human individuals: People
would bitterly resent any system to which they belonged if they believed
that when they grew old, or if they became disabled, they would be thrown
on the trash-heap.
But when all people have become useless, self-prop systems will find
no advantage in taking care of anyone. The techies themselves insist that
machines will soon surpass humans in intelligence. 119 When that happens,
people will be superfluous and natural selection will favor systems that
eliminate them—if not abruptly, then in a series of stages so that the risk
of rebellion will be minimized.
Even though the technological world-system still needs large num¬
bers of people for the present, there are now more superfluous humans
than there have been in the past because technology has replaced people in
many jobs and is making inroads even into occupations formerly thought
to require human intelligence. 120 Consequently, under the pressure of eco¬
nomic competition, the world’s dominant self-prop systems are already
allowing a certain degree of callousness to creep into their treatment of
superfluous individuals. In the United States and Europe, pensions and
other benefits for retired, disabled, unemployed, and other unproductive
persons are being substantially reduced; 121 at least in the U.S., poverty is
increasing; 122 and these facts may well indicate the general trend of the
future, though there will doubtless be ups and downs.
It’s important to understand that in order to make people superfluous,
machines will not have to surpass them in general intelligence but only in
certain specialized kinds of intelligence. For example, the machines will not
have to create or understand art, music, or literature, they will not need the
ability to carry on an intelligent, non-technical conversation (the “Turing
test” 123 ), they will not have to exercise tact or understand human nature,
because these skills will have no application if humans are to be eliminated
anyway. To make humans superfluous, the machines will only need to
outperform them in making the technical decisions that have to be made
for the purpose of promoting the short-term survival and propagation of
the dominant self-prop systems. So, even without going as far as the techies
themselves do in assuming intelligence on the part of future machines,
we still have to conclude that humans will become obsolete. Immortality
in the form (i)—the indefinite preservation of the human body as it exits
today—is highly improbable.
The techies of course will argue that even if the human body and
brain as we know them become obsolete, immortality in the form (ii) can
still be achieved: Man-machine hybrids will permanently retain their use¬
fulness, because by linking themselves with ever-more-powerful machines
human beings (or what is left of them) will be able to remain competitive
with pure machines. 124
But man-machine hybrids will retain a biological component derived
from human beings only as long as the human-derived biological component
remains useful. When purely artificial components become available that
provide a better cost-versus-benefit balance than human-derived biological
components do, the latter will be discarded and the man-machine hybrids
will lose their human aspect to become wholly artificial. 125 Even if the
human-derived biological components are retained they will be purged,
step by step, of the human qualities that detract from their usefulness.
The self-prop systems to which the man-machine hybrids belong will have
no need for such human weaknesses as love, compassion, ethical feelings,
esthetic appreciation, or desire for freedom. Human emotions in general
will get in the way of the self-prop systems’ utilization of the man-machine
hybrids, so if the latter are to remain competitive they will have to be altered
to remove their human emotions and replace these with other motivating
forces. In short, even in the unlikely event that some biological remnants of
the human race are preserved in the form of man-machine hybrids, these
will be transformed into something totally alien to human beings as we
know them today.
The same applies to the hypothesized survival of human minds in
“uploaded” form inside machines. The uploaded minds will not be toler¬
ated indefinitely unless they remain useful (that is, more useful than any
substitutes not derived from human beings), and in order to remain useful
they will have to be transformed until they no longer have anything in
common with the human minds that exist today.
Some techies may consider this acceptable. But their dream of
immortality is illusory nonetheless. Competition for survival among enti¬
ties derived from human beings (whether man-machine hybrids, purely
artificial entities evolved from such hybrids, or human minds uploaded
into machines), as well as competition between human-derived entities and
those machines or other entities that are not derived from human beings,
will lead to the elimination of all but some minute percentage of all the
entities involved. This has nothing to do with any specific traits of human
Chapter Two: Part V
beings or of their machines; it is a general principle of evolution through
natural selection. Look at biological evolution: Of all the species that have
ever existed on Earth, only some tiny percentage have direct descendants
that are still alive today. 126 On the basis of this principle alone, and even
discounting everything else we’ve said in this chapter, the chances that any
given techie will survive indefinitely are minute.
The techies may answer that even if almost all biological species
are eliminated eventually , many species survive for thousands or millions
of years, so maybe techies too can survive for thousands or millions of
years. But when large, rapid changes occur in the environment of biological
species, both the rate of appearance of new species and the rate of extinction
of existing species are greatly increased. 127 Technological progress constantly
accelerates, and techies like Ray Kurzweil insist that it will soon become
virtually explosive; 128 consequently, changes come more and more rapidly,
everything happens faster and faster, competition among self-prop systems
becomes more and more intense, and as the process gathers speed the
losers in the struggle for survival will be eliminated ever more quickly. So,
on the basis of the techies’ own beliefs about the exponential acceleration
of technological development, it’s safe to say that the life-expectancies of
human-derived entities, such as man-machine hybrids and human minds
uploaded into machines, will actually be quite short. The seven-hundred-
year or thousand-year life-span to which some techies aspire 129 is nothing
but a pipe-dream.
Singularity University, which we discussed in Part VI of Chapter One
of this book, purportedly was created to help technophiles “guide research”
and “shape the advances” so that technology would “improve society.” We
pointed out that Singularity University served in practice to promote the
interests of technology-orientated businessmen, and we expressed doubt
that the majority of technophiles fully believed in the drivel about “shap¬
ing the advances” to “improve society.” It does seem, however, that the
techies —the subset of the technophiles that we specified at the beginning
of this Part V of the present chapter—are entirely sincere in their belief
that organizations like Singularity University 130 will help them to “shape
the advances” of technology and keep the technological society on the road
to a utopian future. A utopian future will have to exclude the competitive
processes that would deprive the techies of their thousand-year life-span.
But we showed in Chapter One that the development of our society can
never be subject to rational control: The techies won’t be able to “shape
the advances” of technology, guide the course of technological progress,
or exclude the intense competition that will eliminate nearly all techies in
In view of everything we’ve said up to this point, and in view moreover
of the fact that the techies’ vision of the future is based on pure speculation
and is unsupported by evidence, 131 one has to ask how they can believe in
that vision. Some techies, e.g., Kurzweil, do concede a slight degree of
uncertainty as to whether their expectations for the future will be realized, 132
but this seems to be no more than a sop that they throw to the skeptics,
something they have to concede in order to avoid making themselves too
obviously ridiculous in the eyes of rational people. Despite their pro forma
admission of uncertainty, it’s clear that most techies confidently expect
to live for many centuries, if not forever, in a world that will be in some
vaguely defined sense a utopia. 133 Thus Kurzweil states flatly: “We will be
able to live as long as we want... ,” 134 He adds no qualifiers—no “prob¬
ably,” no “if things turn out as expected.” His whole book reveals a man
intoxicated with a vision of the future in which, as an immortal machine,
he will participate in the conquest of the universe. In fact, Kurzweil and
other techies are living in a fantasy world.
The techies’ belief-system can best be explained as a religious phe¬
nomenon, 135 to which we may give the name “Technianity.” It’s true that
Technianity at this point is not strictly speaking a religion, because it has not
yet developed anything resembling a uniform body of doctrine; the techies’
beliefs are widely varied. 136 In this respect Technianity probably resembles
the inceptive stages of many other religions. Nevertheless, Technianity
already has the earmarks of an apocalyptic and millenarian cult: In most
versions it anticipates a cataclysmic event, the Singularity, 137 which is the
point at which technological progress is supposed to become so rapid as
to resemble an explosion. This is analogous to the Judgment Day 138 of
Christian mythology or the Revolution of Marxist mythology. The cat¬
aclysmic event is supposed to be followed by the arrival of techno-utopia
(analogous to the Kingdom of God or the Worker’s Paradise). Technianity
has a favored minority—the Elect—consisting of the techies (equivalent
to the True Believers of Christianity or the Proletariat of the Marxists 139 ).
The Elect of Technianity, like that of Christianity, is destined to Eternal
Life; though this element is missing from Marxism. 140
Historically, millenarian cults have tended to emerge at “times of
great social change or crisis.” 141 This suggests that the techies’ beliefs reflect
Chapter Two: Notes
not a genuine confidence in technology, but rather their own anxieties about
the future of the technological society—anxieties from which they try to
escape by creating a quasi-religious myth.
1. From a speech delivered by Solzhenitsyn in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, Sept.
1993. Quoted by Remnick, p. 21. Here Solzhenitsyn is referring to the famous
article by Francis Fukuyama (see List of Works Cited).
2. From “Self Reliance” (1841), in Emerson, p. 30. With this quote we do
not mean to express a moral judgment about power in nature or elsewhere, but
only an empirical fact about power.
3. See Kaczynski, pp. 280-85, 418-421. According to Orr, p. 80, “In...
‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,’ [Daniel] Dennett proclaimed that natural selection...
helps to explain... the twists and turns of human cultural change.” I haven’t seen
Dennett’s book and I don’t know to what extent, if any, the present chapter par¬
allels or contradicts his work.
4. Heilbroner 8c Singer, pp. 26-27.
5. A “nuclear family” is the basic human family consisting of a woman, a
man, and any juvenile offspring they may have.
6. When we refer to “competition,” we don’t necessarily mean intentional
or willful competition. Competition, as we use the term, is just something that
happens. For example, plants certainly have no intention to compete with one
another. It is simply a fact that the plants that most effectively survive and prop¬
agate themselves tend to replace those plants that less effectively survive and
propagate themselves. “Competition” in this sense of the word is just an inevitable
process that goes on with or without any intention on the part of the competitors.
7. Something along these lines, but more complicated, probably happened
among the ancient Maya. It’s unlikely that the kind of competition we’ve described
here was the sole cause of the collapse of the “Classic” Maya civilization, but it
probably was at least a contributing factor and it way have been the most important
factor. See: Diamond, pp. 157-177, 431. Sharer, pp. 355-57. NEB (2003), Vol.
7, “Maya,” p. 970; Vol.15, “Central America,” p. 665; Vol. 26, “Pre-Columbian
Civilizations,” p. 17. “Clean” historical examples are hard to find, because the
causes of historical events tend to be complex and open to dispute; the Maya case
illustrates this very well. For further discussion, see Appendix Two, Part A.
8. When we refer to the exercise of “foresight” or to the “pursuit” of advan¬
tage, our reference is not limited to conscious, intelligent foresight or to intentional
pursuit of advantage. We include any behavior (interpreting that word in the
broadest possible sense) that has the same effect as the exercise of foresight or the
pursuit of advantage, regardless of whether the behavior is guided by any mecha¬
nism that could be described as “intelligence.” (Compare note 6.) Forexample, any
vertebrates that, in the process of evolving into land animals, had the “foresight”
to “attempt” to retain their gills (an advantage if they ever had to return to water)
were at a disadvantage due to the biological cost of maintaining organs that were
useless on land. Hence they lost out in “competition” with those incipient land
animals that “pursued” their short-term advantage by getting rid of their gills. By
losing their gills, reptiles, birds, and mammals have become dependent on access
to the atmosphere; and that’s why whales today will drown if forced to remain
submerged too long.
9. The term “prompt” as used here is relative to the circumstances in which
the self-prop system exists and the rapidity with which events that are important
to it can be expected to occur. A hunting-and-gathering band might keep itself
adequately informed about the condition of its territory even if it visited parts of
it only once a year. At the other extreme, an advanced technological society needs
almost instant long-distance communications.
10. See Appendix Two, Part B.
11. “Of toxic bonds and crippled nuke plants,” The Week, Jan. 28,2011, p.
42 (using the term “tightly linked” in place of “tightly coupled”). Harford, p. 27.
See also Perrow, Normal Accidents, pp. 89-100; “Black Swans,” The Week, April
8, 2011, p. 13.
12. Harford, p. 27. The Week, April 8, 2011, p. 13.
13. Perrow, Next Catastrophe, Chapt. 9.
14. This argument of course assumes that the most powerful self-prop sub¬
systems will be “intelligent” enough to distinguish between a situation in which
their supersystem is subject to an immediate external threat, and a situation in
which their supersystem is not subject to such a threat. The assumption, however,
will surely be correct in the contexts that are relevant for our purposes.
15. Silverman, p. 103. (Punctuation, capitalization, and so forth have been
modernized here for the sake of readability.) Compare Alinsky, p. 149 (the struggle
for power among powerful groups “permits only temporary truces, and only when
[the powerful groups are] equally confronted by a common enemy”).
16. See Appendix Two, Part C.
17. See Appendix Two, Part D.
18. E.g., Anonymous and the now-defunct LulzSec. The Economist, June
18, 2011, pp. 67-68; Aug. 6, 2011, pp. 49-50. Saporito, pp. 50-52, 55. Acohido,
“Hactivist group.” p. IB, and “LulzSec’s gone,” p. IB.
19. E.g., Scandinavian biker gangs apparently have proven very difficult
for the authorities to control. The Week, Aug. 20, 2010, p. 15. Authorities seem
Chapter Two: Notes
almost helpless against Chinese gangs that produce technologically sophisticated
fake IDs that are good enough to fool even experts. USA Today, June 11,2012, p.
1A; Aug. 7, 2012, p. 4A. Cybergangs that use the Internet for criminal purposes
are technologically sophisticated and hard to stop. Acohido, “Hackers mine ad
strategies,” p. 2B. Leger 8c Arutunyan, pp. 1A, 7A.
20. See notes 53, 54 to Chapter Three. Also: The Week, May 21,2010, p. 8;
May 28,2010, p. 6; Aug. 13, 2010, p. 6; Dec. 24, 2010-Jan. 7, 2011, p. 20. USA
Today, Nov. 22, 2013, p. 8A.
21. Kenya has been called a “narco-state,” The Week, Jan. 14, 2011, p. 18,
and there is plenty of evidence that this is not far from the truth. Gastrow, Dec.
2011, Chapt. One, especially pp. 24,26,28-34. “Available information does not...
justify categorizing Kenya as a captured or criminalized state, but the country is
clearly on its way to achieving that... status.” Gastrow, Sept. 2011, p. 10. The
drug gangs involved operate internationally and have massively corrupted the
governments of other African countries, such as Guinea-Bissau. O’Regan, p. 6.
22. See Patterson, pp. 9-10, 63.
23. Vick, pp. 46-51. The Economist, Dec. 10, 2011, p. 51.
24. Heilbroner 8c Singer, pp. 58-60.
25. Ibid., pp. 232-33,239. Rothkopf, p. 44. Foroohar, “Companies Are The
New Countries,” p. 21. Corporations are also a dominant force within the U.S.
political system, because their wealth enables them to offer politicians campaign
contributions that in practice function as bribes. See The Week, Feb. 25,2011, p. 16.
26. “U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas told [President]
Franklin Roosevelt that government agencies more than ten years old should be
abolished. After that point, they become more concerned with their image than
with their mission.” David Brower, “Foreword,” in Wilkinson, p. ix. See also
Keefe, p. 42, quoting Max Weber on bureaucracies’ “pure interest... in power.”
27. Carrillo, pp. 77-78. Carrillo perhaps generalizes too broadly, but there
is undoubtedly a good deal of truth in what he says here.
28. Pakistan: Time, May 23,2011, p. 41. The Week, Nov. 26,2010, p. 15. The
Economist, Feb. 12, 2011, p. 48; Feb. 26, 2011, p. 65 (“General Ashfaq Kayani...
[is] widely seen as the most powerful in [Pakistan]”); April 2,2011, pp. 38-39;
May 21,2011, p. 50 (“India’s most senior security officials say that Pakistan is still,
in essence, a state run by its army”); June 18, 2011, p. 47 (calling Pakistan’s army
“the country’s dominant institution”); July 30, 2011, p. 79. USA Today, May 13,
2013, p. 5 A (“Despite protests over vote-rigging..., observers heralded Pakistan’s
elections as a historic democratic exercise in a nation known for military takeovers.
... .” But: “Athar Hussain, director of the Asia Research Center at the London
School of Economics, said... ‘The army will still remain one of the most powerful
forces in Pakistan’... .”).
Recent (since 2011) events in Egypt have been massively publicized, and it
should be obvious to the reader that the army is calling the shots in that country.
As an example, we quote USA Today, Aug. 16, 2013, p. 1A:
“Egypt’s military ousted [Mohammed] Morsi on July 3  after mil¬
lions protested Morsi’s policies as a new dictatorship of Islamists. ... Egyptian
military chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has criticized [President] Obama for refusing
to endorse the ouster of Morsi... . The Obama administration has not called the
ouster a ‘military coup’... .”
See also ibid., pp. 5A, 6A, and ibid., Oct. 30, 2013, p. 7A (“In a political
vacuum, [Egypt’s] top army chief has edge”).
29. For the sake of simplicity we define a lineage to be any sequence of
organisms Oi, 0 2 , 0 3 , ... On such that 0 2 is an offspring of 0 3 , 0 3 is an off¬
spring of 0 2 , 0 4 is an offspring of 0 3 , and so on down to On- We say that such
a lineage has survived to the Nth generation. But if On produces no offspring,
then the lineage does not survive to generation N+l. For example, if John is the
son of Mary and George is the son of John and Laura is the daughter of George,
then Mary-John-George-Laura is a lineage that survives to the fourth generation.
But if Laura produces no offspring, then the lineage does not survive to the Fifth
30. See Appendix Two, Part E.
31. Sodhi, Brook 8c Bradshaw, pp. 515, 517, 519. Benton, p. vii.
32. Kurzweil, pp. 344-49.
33. Ibid., p. 348. Kurzweil refers to an estimate that there should be “bil¬
lions” of technologically advanced civilizations within the range of our observation,
but he plausibly argues that the assumptions on which this estimate is based
are highly uncertain and probably overoptimistic (this writer would say wildly
overoptimistic). Ibid., pp. 346-47, 357. On the other hand, since Kurzweil wrote
in 2005 there have been numerous media reports of discoveries that indicate an
abundance of planets, not so far from Earth, on which, as far as anyone can tell,
life could have evolved. E.g.: The Week, June 3, 2011, p. 21; Sept. 30, 2011, p. 23;
Jan. 27,2012, p. 19. Time, June 6, 2011, p. 18. The Economist, Dec. 10, 2011, p.
90. USA Today, Feb. 7,2013, p. 5A; April 19-21,2013, p. 7A; Nov. 5,2013, p. 5A.
Polish American Journal, July 2013, p. 7. Lieberman, pp. 36-39. So an explanation
is needed for the fact that our astronomers have detected no indication of any
extraterrestrial civilizations at all. See Kurzweil, p. 357. It should be noted that
in this connection Kurzweil egregiously misuses the “anthropic principle.” Ibid.
34. From our remarks about Social Darwinism in Part I of this chapter, it
should be clear that our intention here is not to exalt competition or portray it as
desirable. We aren’t making value-judgments in that regard. Our purpose is only
to set forth the relevant facts, however unpleasant those facts may be.
Chapter Two: Notes
35. E.g.: “As [Barbara] Tuchman put it..., ‘Chief among the forces affecting
political folly is lust for power... Diamond, p. 431.
36. E.g.: “Governments... regularly operate on a short-term focus: they...
pay attention only to problems that are on the verge of explosion. For example, a
friend of mine who is closely connected to the current [George W. Bush] federal
administration in Washington, D.C., told me that, when he visited Washington
for the first time after the 2000 national elections, he found that our government’s
new leaders had what he termed a ‘90-day focus’: they talked only about those prob¬
lems with the potential to cause a disaster within the next 90 days.” Ibid., p. 434.
37. See Appendix Two, Part F.
38. For other parts of the reason, see Kaczynski, pp. 263-64, 300-02,
311-19, 323-24, 326.
39. This assumption is implicit in, e.g., Benton, pp. vi, viii; McKinney 8c
Lockwood, p. 452; Feeney, pp. 20-21.
40. See Benton, p. vii.
41. Ibid., p. iv. NEB (2007), Vol. 4, “dinosaur,” p. 104; Vol. 17, “Dinosaurs,”
42. See note 41.
43. Duxbury 8cDuxbury, pp. 111-12, 413-14. Zierenberg, Adams 8c Arp.
Beatty et al.
44. The Week, June 8, 2012, p. 21.
45. Kerr, p. 703.
46. Popular Science, June 2013, p. 97.
47. Samuel Butler, Hudibras.
48. Zierenberg, Adams 8c Arp, p. 12962.
49. Kerr, p. 703.
50. Klemm, pp. 147-48.
51. E.g., during the 1980s I enquired about certain numbered stakes I had
found in the mountains in the vicinity of Lincoln, Montana. I was told that the
stakes indicated locations where samples of soil had been collected to be analyzed
to determine whether they contained minute traces of valuable metals. Mineable
deposits of gold, etc., supposedly could be located through this procedure.
52. E.g., miners have learned to use cyanide solutions and mercury—both
highly poisonous—to leach gold out of sediments or crushed rock. Zimmermann,
pp. 270-71, 276. NEB (2002), Vol. 21, “Industries, Extraction and Processing,”
pp. 491-92. At least in the case of cyanide leaching, this can be done profitably
even where only a minute quantity of gold is present in each ton of material
treated. Diamond, p. 40. As regards iron, methods have been developed for uti¬
lizing low-grade ores such as taconite. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “United States of
America,” p. 372. See Zimmermann, pp. 271-73. Some iron ores contained too
much phosphorus, so that steel produced from them was “almost unfit for practi¬
cal purposes.” Ibid., p. 284. Manchester, p. 32. The utilization of these ores was
made possible by the invention at some time between 1875 and 1879 (sources are
inconsistent as to the date) of the Thomas-Gilchrist process for making low-phos¬
phorus steel from high-phosphorus ore. Zimmermann, p. 284. NEB (2003), Vol.
5, “Gilchrist, Percy (Carlyle),” p. 265; Vol. 11, “Thomas, Sidney Gilchrist,” p. 716;
Vol. 21, “Industries, Extraction and Processing,” pp. 420, 422, 447-48.
53. E.g., Watson, p. 1A (widespread mercury contamination from old
gold-mining operations); Diamond, pp. 36-37, 40-41, 453-57.
54. Diamond, pp. 455-56.
55. Current indispensability of rare earths: Folger, pp. 138, 140. Former
limited utility of rare earths: NEB (2007), Vol. 15, “Chemical Elements,” pp.
1016-17. Even the rare earths that had important uses, cerium and lanthanum,
were probably used only in relatively small quantities. E.g., only 10% (ibid.) or 1%
(Zimmermann, p. 400) of cerium nitrate was used with 90% or 99% of thorium
(not a rare earth) nitrate in solutions to treat mantles for gas lamps, and it wouldn’t
have taken much solution to treat a large number of mantles.
56. Margonelli, p. 17. Folger, loc. cit. (hundreds of pounds of neodymium
for a single wind turbine).
57. Margonelli, p. 18. Folger, p. 145. NEB (2007), loc. cit.
58. The Bouma postyard near Lincoln, Montana, which treated posts and
poles with cupric arsenate, was in operation throughout the author’s 25-year res¬
idence in that area.
59. For this whole paragraph see Zimmermann, pp. 323-24,401-07; NEB
(2002), Vol. 21, “Industries, Extraction and Processing,” pp. 515, 520, 523-28;
Krauss, p. B8. Allan Nevins’s biography of John D. Rockefeller (see List of
Works Cited), who created the Standard Oil Company, is also of interest in this
60. For this whole paragraph up to this point, see NEB (2002), Vol. 21,
“Industries, Extraction and Processing,” pp. 515-19; Mann, pp. 48-63; Walsh,
“Power Surge,” pp. 36-39; Reed, p. B6; Rosenthal, p. B6; Johnson 8c Gold, pp.
Al, A6; USA Today, May 10, 2011, p. 2A, Nov. 23, 2012, p. 10A, Nov. 4, 2013,
p. 3B, and Nov. 14, 2013, p. 1A.
61. See, e.g., Walsh, “Gas Dilemma,” pp. 43, 45-46, 48.
62. Ibid., p. 42.
63. This conclusion is strongly suggested by the theory of natural selection
as developed in the present chapter, and it is supported empirically by the system’s
failure to solve other problems that require worldwide international cooperation
and renunciation of competitive advantages (e.g., the failure to eliminate war or
nuclear weapons), as well as the failure to deal with the greenhouse effect itself.
Chapter Two: Notes
Note failure of global-warming summits in Copenhagen, USA Today, Nov. 16,
2009, p. 5A and Cancun, The Week , Dec. 10, 2010, p. 23, “Climate change:
Resignation sets in” (“[T]he ‘Great Gurus of Green’ were truly deluded in thinking
they could get 192 countries to sign on to a treaty curbing their carbon emissions.
‘The fight to limit global warming... is thus over’... The only question now about
the warming planet is ‘how to live with it’... rising sea levels, droughts and food
64. See Kaczynski, pp. 314-15, 417-18; Wald, “Nuclear Industry Seeks
Interim Site,” pp. Al, A20, and “What Now for Nuclear Waste?,” pp. 48-53.
65. See, e.g., “Radioactive fuel rods: The silent threat,” The Week , April
15, 2011, p. 13. Even where cleanup efforts are undertaken, they are likely to be
characterized by incompetence and inefficiency. See, e.g., USA Today, Aug. 29,
2012, p. 2A.
66. Carroll, pp. 30-33. Koch, p. 4B.
67. Carroll, p. 33 (“The isolated Alaska village of Galena is in discussions
with Toshiba” to buy a mini-nuke).
68. Matheny, p. 3A.
69. Welch, p. 3A. The Week, March 23, 2012, p. 14.
70. Welch, p. 3A. MacLeod, p. 7A.
71. Welch, p. 3A.
72. The Economist, April 2, 2011, p. 65.
73. Here we take no account of the possibility that nuclear fusion reactors
may some day provide (allegedly) unlimited quantities of (allegedly) clean energy.
As far as I’m aware there has been no substantial progress toward the achievement
of controlled fusion, nor do I have any information bearing on possible environ¬
mental problems entailed by controlled fusion. Suffice it to say that I suspect
energy from controlled fusion (if it is ever achieved) will prove to be no exception
to the rule that “there’s no free lunch when it comes to meeting our energy needs”
(see note 68). In any case, this “unlimited” source of energy, however large, is in
fact finite. If it ever becomes available, I would expect the system’s consumption
of energy to increase exponentially until some limit is reached. If nothing else,
the amount of heat eventually generated will lead—quite independently of any
greenhouse effect—to an intolerable level of global warming.
74. Matheny, p. 3A.
75. Ibid. See Walsh, “Power Surge,” pp. 34-35. Also, the manufacture of
solar panels indirectly generates radioactive waste, because solar panels require
rare earths. “Relying on China is a big mistake,” The Week, Oct. 22, 2010, p. 18.
76. Kurzweil, p. 13. In some important ways Kurzweil himself falls into
77. Ibid., p. 12.
78. According to Zimmermann, p. 323, the first functioning internal com¬
bustion engine (fueled by gas) was built in 1860. Internal combustion engines
using gasoline and kerosene came later.
79. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “War, Technology of,” p. 575.
80. NEB (2003), Vol. 14, “Atmosphere,” pp. 317, 321-22, 330-31, and
“Biosphere,” p. 1155.
81. Ibid., “Biosphere,” p. 1155, says that the Earth’s atmosphere once was
“largely composed of carbon dioxide,” but this is unlikely, since ibid., “Atmosphere,”
p. 321, refers to an “approximately hundredfold decline of atmospheric C0 2 [=
carbon dioxide] abundances from [3.5 billion] years ago to the present.” The
present atmosphere contains roughly 400 parts per million, or 0.04%, of C0 2 .
Kunzig, p. 96 (chart). So the atmosphere of 3.5 billion years ago must have con¬
tained something like 100x0.04%=4% ofC0 2 . (For our purposes, 3.5 billion years
ago can be taken as “the beginning” for planet Earth. See NEB (2003), Vol. 19,
“Geochronology,” p. 783.)
82. Today, it is believed, the Sun radiates at least 25% more energy than
it did 3.5 billion years ago. NEB (2003), Vol. 14, “Biosphere,” p. 1155. Possibly
as much as 33% more, for “the Sun has been shining at least four billion years.
... Model calculations conclude that the Sun becomes 10 percent brighter every
billion years; hence it must now be at least 40 percent brighter than at the time of
planet formation.” Ibid., Vol. 27, “Solar System,” p. 457.1 assume that this 10%
per billion years increment in brightness is to be calculated as one calculates simple
interest, for if it were calculated like compound interest then the total increase in
brightness over four billion years would be not 40% but 46.4%. On this assump¬
tion, the increase in brightness over the last 3.5 billion years would be about 33%
of the brightness of 3.5 billion years ago. On the other hand, contrary to the 10%
rule, the “Sun seems to have been shining at its present rate for about the last 20
percent of its current age of [5 billion] years,” i.e., for about the last billion years.
Ibid., Vol. 28, “Stars and Star Clusters,” p. 199. These inconsistencies point up
the uncertainty of such estimates of past conditions.
83. Ibid., Vol. 14, “Biosphere,” p. 1155. See also ibid., “Atmosphere,” p. 330.
84. Ibid., p. 321. Mann, p. 56.
85. E.g., Mann, p. 62.
86. Ward, pp. 74-75.
87. Regarding methane see, e.g., USA Today, March 5, 2010, p. 3A
(“Methane... appears to be seeping through the Arctic Ocean floor and into the
Earth’s atmosphere...”); Mann, pp. 56, 62.
88. Kunzig, p. 94.
89. Ibid., p. 96 (chart caption).
90. Ibid., pp. 90-91.
91. Ibid., p. 94.
Chapter Two: Notes
92. Ibid., p. 109 (“That episode doesn’t tell us what will happen to life on
Earth if we... burn the rest [of our planet’s fossil-fuel reserves].”).
93. Ibid., pp. 105-08.
94. See Wood, pp. 70-76; Sarewitz 8c Pielke, p. 59; Time, March 24,
2008, p. 50.
95. Wood, pp. 72, 73, 76.
96. See Appendix Four.
97. E.g., Science News, Vol. 163, Feb. 1, 2003, p. 72 (mercury); Batra (cad¬
mium); The Week, May 14, 2010, p. 18, “India: The world’s garbage dump for
98. See notes 17,18 to Chapter One and, e.g., Vegetarian Times, May 2004,
p. 13 (quoting Los Angeles Times of Jan. 13, 2004); U.S. News & World Report, Jan.
24, 2000, pp. 30-31. On cyanide, see notes 52 8c 53, above.
99. Regarding the effects of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, see
Time, Sept 27,2010, p. 18; The Week, Sept. 24, 2010, p. 7.
100. The Week, June 18, 2010, p. 12.
101. E.g., The Week, April 22, 2011, p. 23. See also NEB (2003), Vol.
19, “Geochronology,” p. 783. Let’s not count our chicks before they’re hatched;
efforts to save the ozone layer may not be as effective as we hope. For one thing,
chlorofluorocarbons (“CFCs”) are not the only source of human-caused damage
to the ozone layer. E.g., the burning of rocket fuels based on ammonium per¬
chlorate produces chlorine compounds that attack ozone. For another thing, the
international agreement to phase out CFCs was possible only because CFCs are
of relatively minor economic importance. If new uses for CFCs are discovered
that greatly increase their economic importance, the agreement may not hold up.
102. Examples: Artificial lighting is thought to be partly responsible
for dramatic declines in firefly populations. National Geographic, June 2009,
“ENVIRONMENT: Dimming Lights,” unnumbered page. Many thousands of
untested chemicals are getting into our environment, The Week, March 12,2010,
p. 14 and Dec. 2, 2011, p. 18; Time, April 12, 2010, pp. 59-60, and these some¬
times turn out to have unexpected harmful effects, e.g., “Shrimp on Prozac,” The
Week, Aug. 6, 2010, p. 19. Exotic species brought into a region in the belief that
they are harmless often reproduce uncontrollably and do enormous damage. See
note 36 to Appendix Two.
103. NEB (2003), Vol. 26, “Rivers.” p. 860.
104. E.g., Denver Post, Aug. 23, 2005, p. 2B.
105. NEB (2003), Vol. 14, “Atmosphere,” p. 331.
106. For some remarks concerning small islands in relation to the theory
developed in the present chapter, see Appendix Two, Part G.
107. It is significant that Ray Kurzweil, the best-known of the techie proph¬
ets, started out as a science-fiction enthusiast. Kurzweil, p. 1. Kim Eric Drexler,
the prophet of nanotechnology, started out “specializing in theories of space travel
and space colonization.” Keiper, p. 20.
108. Grossman, p. 49, col. 2. Kurzweil, pp. 351-368.
109. Kelly, p. 357.
110. Ibid., pp. 11-12.
111. Grossman, p. 47. Kurzweil, p. 320.
112. Grossman, p. 44, col. 3. Kurzweil, pp. 194-95, 309, 377. Vance, p. 1,
col. 3; p. 6, col. 1.
113. Grossman, p. 44, col. 3; p. 48, col. 1; p. 49, col. 1. Kurzweil, pp. 198—
203, 325-26, 377. The techies seem to assume that their own consciousness will
survive the uploading process. On that subject Kurzweil is somewhat equivocal,
but in the end seems to assume that his consciousness will survive if his brain is
replaced with nonbiological components not all at once, but bit by bit over a period
of time. Kurzweil, pp. 383-86.
114. Winston Churchill, Sept. 15, 1909, quoted by Jenkins, p. 212. Other
examples: “... liberty, toleration, equality of opportunity, socialism... there is no
reason why any of them should not be fully realised, in a society or in the world,
if it were the united purpose of a society or of the world to realise it.” Bury, p. 1
(originally published in 1920; see ibid., p. xvi). On July 22, 1944, John Maynard
Keynes noted that forty-four nations had been learning to “work together.” He
added: “If we can so continue... [t]he brotherhood of man will have become more
than a phrase.” (Fat chance!) Skidelsky, p. 355.
115. This of course does not mean that no self-prop system ever does any¬
thing beneficent that is contrary to its own interest, but the occasional exceptions
are relatively insignificant. Bear in mind that many apparently beneficent actions
are actually to the advantage of the self-prop system that carries them out.
116. Grossman, p. 48, col. 3 (“Who decides who gets to be immortal?”).
Vance, p. 6, col. 1.
117. Humans need to be fed, clothed, housed, educated, entertained, disci¬
plined, and provided with medical care. Whereas machines can work continuously
with only occasional down-time for repairs, humans need to spend a great deal
of time sleeping and resting.
118. Also, modern societies find it advantageous to encourage people’s
compassionate feelings through propaganda. See Kaczynski, pp. 157,160,200-01.
119. Grossman, pp. 44-46. Kurzweil, pp. 135ff and passim. Machines
that surpass humans in intelligence might not be digital computers as we know
them today. They might have to depend on quantum-theoretic phenomena, or
they might have to make use of complex molecules as biological systems do. See
Grossman, p. 48, col. 2; Kurzweil, pp. 111-122. This writer has little doubt that,
with commitment of sufficient resources over a sufficient period of time, it would
be technically feasible to develop artificial devices having general intelligence that
Chapter Two: Notes
surpasses that of humans (“strong artificial intelligence,” or “strong AI,” Kurzweil,
p. 260). See Kaczynski, p. 329. Whether it would be technically feasible to develop
strong AI as soon as Kurzweil, p. 262, predicts is another matter. Moreover, it is
seriously to be doubted whether the world’s leading self-prop systems will ever have
any need for strong AI. If they don’t, then there’s no reason to assume that they
will commit to it sufficient resources for its development. See Somers, pp. 93-94.
Contra: The Atlantic, July/Aug. 2013, pp. 40-41; The Week , Nov. 4, 2011, p. 18.
However, the assumption that strong AI will soon appear plays an important role
in Kurzweil’s vision of the future, so we could accept that assumption and proceed
to debunk Kurzweil’s vision by reductio ad absurdum. But the argument of Part
V of this chapter does not require the assumption that strong AI will ever exist.
120. E.g.: The Week, Sept. 30, 2011, p. 14 (“Capitalism is killingthe middle
class”); Feb. 17, 2012, p. 42 (“No reason to favor manufacturing”); April 6, 2012,
p. 11; May 4, 2012, p. 39 (“The half-life of software engineers”). USA Today,
July 9, 2010, pp. 1B-2B (machines as stock-market traders); April 24, 2012, p.
3A (computer scoring of essays); Sept. 14, 2012, p. 4F. The Economist, Sept. 10,
2011, p. 11 and “Special report: The future of jobs”; Nov. 19, 2011, p. 84. The
Atlantic, June 2013, pp. 18-20. Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2013, p. B6. Popular
Science, June 2013, p. 28 (robots as companions). Davidson, pp. 60-70. Carr,
pp. 78-80. Foroohar, “What Happened to Upward Mobility?,” pp. 29-30, 34.
Markoff, “Skilled Work Without the Worker.” pp. AI, A19. Lohr, p. B3. Rotman
121. E.g.: USA Today, July 20, 2011, p. 3A (“Painful plan in R.I.”); Sept.
29, 2011, pp. 1A, 4A; Sept. 14, 2012, p. 5A (Spain); Sept. 24, 2012, p. 6B (sev¬
eral European countries); Sept. 28,2012, p. 5B (Spain); Aug. 5, 2013, p. 3A. The
Economist, June 11,2011, p. 58 (Sweden). The Week, July 29, 2011, p. 12 (“The end
of the age of entitlements”). Drehle, p. 32. A friend of the authorwrote on Oct. 3,
2012: “[My parents] don’t have any set up for long term care... and at this point
many states... are doing what is called estate recovery and the like, which means
that if Dad were to go in a nursing home... either his Veteran’s stipend, social
security, and pension would all go into paying for the care, meaning Mom would
not have enough to live on... or, in a diff erent scenario, Medicaid would put a lien
on their house and when he dies, mom would be out of luck so Medicaid could
be repaid for his ‘care’—which at that low level is very poor care, by selling the
house.” In regard to probable future treatment of people who seek immortality:
“The frozen head of baseball legend Ted Williams has not been treated well... .
[A]t one point Williams’s head, which the slugger ordered frozen in hopes of one
day being brought back to life, was propped up by an empty tuna-fish can and
became stuck to it. To detach the can... staff whacked it repeatedly with a monkey
wrench, sending ‘tiny pieces of frozen head’ flying around the room.” The Week,
Oct. 16, 2009, p. 14.
122. E.g.: USA Today, Sept. 29, 2011, pp. 1A-2A. The Week, Sept. 30,
2011, p. 21 (“Poverty: Decades of progress, slipping away”); July 27, 2012, p. 16
(“Why the poor are getting poorer”). Kiviat, pp. 35-37. Also: “Half of all U.S.
workers earned less than $26,364 in 2010—the lowest median wage since 1999,
adjusted for inflation.” The Week, Nov. 4, 2011, p. 18. “The average American
family’s net worth dropped almost 40 percent... between 2007 and 2010.” Ibid.,
June 22,2012, p. 34.
123. NEB (2003), Vol. 12, “Turing test,” p. 56. NEB is more accurate on the
Turing test than is Kurzweil, p. 294: In order to pass the test, machines may not
have to “emulate the flexibility, subtlety, and suppleness of human intelligence.”
See, e.g., The Week, Nov. 4, 2011, p. 18.
124. Grossman, p. 44, col. 3. Vance, p. 6, col. 4. Kurzweil, pp. 24-25, 309,
377. Man-machine hybrids are also called “cyborgs.”
125. Kurzweil, p. 202, seems to agree.
126. “Species come and go continually—around 99.9 per cent [of] all those
that have ever existed are now extinct.” Benton, p. ii. We assume this means that
99.9 percent have become extinct without leaving any direct descendants that
are alive today. Independently of that assumption, it’s clear from the general
pattern of evolution that only some minute percentage of all species that have
ever existed can have descendants that are alive today. See, e.g., NEB (2003), Vol.
14, “Biosphere,” pp. 1154-59; Vol. 19, “Fishes,” p. 198, and “Geochronology,”
especially pp. 750-52, 785, 792, 794-95, 797, 802, 813-14, 819, 820, 825-27,
831-32, 836, 838-39, 848-49, 858-59, 866-67, 872. Extinctions have by no means
been limited to a few major “extinction events”; they have occurred continually
throughout the evolutionary process, though at a rate that has varied widely over
time. See Benton, p. ii; NEB (2003), Vol. 18, “Evolution, Theory of,” pp. 878-79;
NEB (2007), Vol. 17, “Dinosaurs,” p. 318.
127. We don’t have explicit authority for this statement, though it receives
some support from Sodhi, Brook 8c Bradshaw, p. 518. We make the statement
mainly because it’s just common sense and seems generally consistent with the
facts of evolution. We’re betting that most evolutionary biologists would agree
with it, though they might add various reservations and qualifications.
128. Grossman, pp. 44-46, 49. Vance, p. 6, cols. 3-5. Kurzweil, e.g., pp.
9, 25 (“an hour would result in a century of progress”).
129. Vance, p. 7, col. 1 (700 years). “Mr. Immortality,” The Week, Nov. 16,
2007, pp. 52-53 (1,000 years).
130. Other such organizations are the Foresight Institute, Keiper, p. 29;
Kurzweil, pp.229, 395, 411, 418-19, and the Singularity Institute, Grossman, p.
48, col. 3; Kurzweil, p. 599 note 45.
131. There is of course evidence to support many of the techies’ beliefs
about particular technological developments, e.g., their belief that the power of
Chapter Two: Notes
computers will increase at an ever-accelerating rate, or that it will some day be
technically feasible to keep a human body alive indefinitely. But there is no evi¬
dence to support the techies’ beliefs about the future of society, e.g., their belief
that our society will actually keep some people alive for hundreds of years, or will
be motivated to expand over the entire universe.
132. Grossman, p. 48, col. 3; p. 49, col. 1 (“the future beyond the Singularity
is not knowable”). Vance, p. 7, col. 4. See Kurzweil, pp. 420, 424.
133. “[S]ome people see the future of computing as a kind of heaven.”
Christian, p. 68. The utopian cast of techie beliefs is reflected in the name of
Keiper’s journal, The New Atlantis , evidently borrowed from the title of an incom¬
plete sketch of a technological “ideal state” that Francis Bacon wrote in 1623. Bury,
pp. 59-60 8c note 1. Probably most techies would deny that they are anticipating a
utopia, but that doesn’t make their vision less utopian. For example, Kelly, p. 358,
writes: “The technium... is not utopia.” But on the very next page he launches into
a utopian rhapsody: “The technium... expands life’s fundamental goodness. ...
The technium... expands the mind’s fundamental goodness. Technology... will
populate the world with all conceivable ways of comprehending the infinite.” Etc.
Kelly’s book as a whole can best be described as a declaration of faith.
134. Kurzweil, p. 9.
135. Several observers have noticed the religious quality of the techies’
beliefs. Grossman, p. 48, col. 1. Vance, p. 1, col. 4. Markoff, “Ay Robot!,” p.
4, col. 2 (columns occupied by advertisements are not counted). Keiper, p. 24.
Kurzweil, p. 370, acknowledges the comment of one such observer, then shrugs
it off by remarking, “I did not come to my perspective as a result of searching for
an alternative to customary faith.” But this is irrelevant. St. Paul, according to the
biblical account, was not searching for a new faith when he experienced the most
famous of all conversions; in fact, he had been energetically persecuting Christians
right up to the moment when Jesus allegedly spoke to him. Acts 9: 1-31. Saul =
Paul, Acts 13: 9. Certainly many, perhaps the majority, of those who undergo a
religious conversion do so not because they have consciously searched for one, but
because it has simply come to them.
Like Kurzweil, many techies stand to profit financially from Technianity,
but it is entirely possible to hold a religious belief quite sincerely even while one
profits from it. See, e.g., The Economist, Oct. 29, 2011, pp. 71-72.
136. E.g., Grossman, p. 46, col. 2.
137. Grossman, pp. 44-46. Kurzweil, p. 9. Another version of the
Singularity is the “assembler breakthrough” posited by nanotechnology buffs.
Keiper, pp. 23-24.
138. It’s not entirely clear whether the Day of Judgment and the Second
Coming of Jesus are supposed to occur at the same time or are to be separated by
a thousand years. Compare Relevation 20: 1-7,12-13 with NEB (2003), Vol. 17,
“Doctrines and Dogmas, Religious,” p. 406 (referring to “the Second Coming...
of Christ... to judge the living and the dead”) and ibid., Vol. 7, “Last Judgment,”
p. 175. But for our purposes this is of little importance.
139. A correspondent (perhaps under the mistaken impression that the
proletariat included all of the “lower” classes) has raised the objection that the
proletariat was not a minority. For our purposes it is not very important whether the
Elect of Marxist mythology, or the proletariat, was literally a numerical minority
of the population, so it wouldn’t be worth our while to spend much time on this
question. Let the following suffice: Marxist literature is not consistent as to who
belongs to the proletariat. For instance, Lenin in 1899 held that the poor peasants
constituted a “rural proletariat.” See “The Development of Capitalism in Russia,”
e.g., Conclusions to Chapter II, section 5; in Christman, p. 19. But in 1917 Lenin
clearly implied that the peasantry, including the poor peasants, did not belong
to the proletariat, which he now identified as “the armed vanguard of all the
exploited, of all the toilers.” See “The State and Revolution,” Chapt. II, section
1; Chapt. Ill, sections 1 8c3; respectively pp. 287-88, 299, 307 in Christman.
It is the proletariat in this sense—the vanguard of all the toilers—that we have
in mind when we speak of the Elect of Marxist mythology, and it’s clear from
Marxist theory generally that the proletariat in this sense was to consist mainly if
not exclusively of industrial workers. E.g., Lenin wrote in 1902: “the strength of
the modern [socialist] movement lies in the awakening of the masses (principally
the industrial proletariat)...” (emphasis added). “What is to be Done?,” Chapt. II,
first paragraph; in Christman, pp. 72-73. See also NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,”
p. 933 (describing the proletariat as “an industrial working class”). Almost cer¬
tainly, industrial workers have never constituted a majority of the population of
any country. Compare Bertrand Russell’s view of Marxism, NEB (2003), Vol. 17,
“Doctrines and Dogmas, Religious,” p. 408.
140. On the subject of apocalyptic and millenarian cults, see NEB (2003),
Vol. 1, “apocalyptic literature” and “apocalypticism,” p. 482; Vol. 17, “Doctrines
and Dogmas, Religious,” pp. 402, 406, 408. Also the Bible, Revelation 20.
141. NEB (2003), Vol. 8, “millennium,” p. 133. See also Vol. 17, “Doctrines
and Dogmas, Religious,” p. 401 (“Eschatological themes thrive particularly in crisis
situations...”). Example: millenarian cults in China during the period when the
Yuan dynasty was breaking up. Mote, pp. 502, 518, 520, 529, 533.
How to Transform a Society:
Errors to Avoid
In studying any complex process in which there are two or
more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding
its principal contradiction. Once this principal contradiction
is grasped, all problems can be readily solved.
—Mao Zedong 1
In this chapter we will state some rules that deserve the attention
of anyone who wants to bring about radical changes in a society. Not all
of the rules are precise enough to be easily applied and some may not be
applicable in every situation, but if a radical movement fails to take the rules
into account it risks throwing away its chances of success.
In the first part of this chapter we will give a brief and simplified
explanation of the rules. Further on we will examine the meaning of the
rules, illustrate them with examples, and discuss the limits of their appli¬
cability. In the last part of the chapter we will show how ignorance of the
rules ensures the failure of present-day efforts to deal with the problems
generated by modern technology, including the problem of environmental
I. Postulates and Rules
We begin by stating four postulates. We postpone a discussion of
the extent to which the postulates are true.
Postulate 1. You can’t change a society by pursuing goals that are vague
or abstract. You have to have a clear and concrete goal. As an experienced
activist put it: “Vague, over-generalized objectives are seldom met. The trick
is to conceive of some specific development which will inevitably propel
your community in the direction you want it to go.” 2
Postulate 2. Preaching alone—the mere advocacy of ideas—cannot
bring about important, long-lasting changes in the behavior of human
beings, unless in a very small minority. 3
Postulate 3. Any radical movement tends to attract many people who
may be sincere, but whose goals are only loosely related to the goals of the
movement. 4 The result is that the movement’s original goals may become
blurred, if not completely perverted. 5
Postulate 4. Every radical movement that acquires great power
becomes corrupt, at the latest, when its original leaders (meaning those
who joined the movement while it was still relatively weak) are all dead or
politically inactive. In saying that a movement becomes corrupt, we mean
that its members, and especially its leaders, primarily seek personal advan¬
tages (such as money, security, social status, powerful offices, or a career)
rather than dedicating themselves sincerely to the ideals of the movement.
From these postulates we can infer certain rules to which every radical
movement should pay close attention.
Rule (i) In order to change a society in a specified way, a movement
should select a single, clear, simple, and concrete objective the achievement
of which will produce the desired change.
It follows from Postulate 1 that the movement’s objectives must be
clear and concrete. According to Postulate 3 there will be a tendency for the
movement’s objectives to become blurred or perverted, and this tendency
will be most easily resisted if the movement has only a single objective that
is simple in addition to being clear and concrete. As seen in the epigraph,
above, Mao emphasized the importance of identifying the “principal con¬
tradiction” in any situation, and this one principal contradiction commonly
will point to a single, decisive objective that a movement needs to achieve
in order to transform a society.
In any conflict situation in which victory is uncertain, it is always
essential to concentrate one’s efforts on the achievement of the single most
critical objective. Military practitioners and theorists like Napoleon and
Clausewitz recognized the importance of concentrating one’s forces at the
Chapter Three: Part I
decisive point, 6 and Lenin noted that this principle applies in politics as
it does in war. 7 But we shouldn’t need Napoleon, Clausewitz, or Lenin to
tell us this—it’s just common sense: When you’re facing a difficult struggle
and have no strength to spare, you’d better concentrate what strength you
have where it will do the most good: on the single most critical objective.
Rule (ii) If a movement aims to transform a society, then the objective
selected by the movement must be of such a nature that, once the objective
has been achieved, its consequences will be irreversible. This means that,
once society has been transformed through the achievement of the objective,
society will remain in its transformed condition without any further effort
on the part of the movement or anyone else.
In order to transform society, the movement will have to acquire great
power and therefore, according to Postulate 4, will soon become corrupt.
Once corrupted, the members of the movement or their successors will no
longer exert themselves to maintain the transformed condition of society
that corresponds to the ideals of the movement, but will be concerned only
to gain and hold personal advantages. Consequently, society will not remain
in its transformed condition unless the transformation is irreversible.
Rule (in) Once an objective has been selected, it is necessary to per¬
suade some small minority to commit itself to the achievement of the
objective by means more potent than mere preaching or advocacy of ideas.
In other words, the minority will have to organize itself for practical action.
As pointed out in Postulate 2, the advocacy of ideas alone cannot
change society, so some group will have to be organized for the purpose
of applying methods more potent than mere advocacy of ideas. At least at
the outset, this group will ordinarily include only a very small minority
because, again by Postulate 2, prior to the application of methods more
potent than the mere advocacy of ideas, only a very small minority can be
persuaded to act.
Rule (iv) In order to keep itself faithful to its objective, a radical
movement should devise means of excluding from its ranks all unsuitable
persons who may seek to join it.
This can be important, because according to Postulate 3 the admis¬
sion of unsuitable persons will promote the blurring or perversion of the
Rule (v) Once a revolutionary movement has become powerful enough
to achieve its objective, it must achieve its objective as soon as possible, and
in any case before the original revolutionaries (meaning those who joined
the movement while it was still relatively weak) die or become politically
As noted earlier, the movement will have to become very powerful
in order to achieve its objective, therefore, by Postulate 4, it will soon be
corrupted. Once corrupted, the movement will no longer be faithful to
its objective, so if the objective is to be achieved at all it must be achieved
before the movement becomes corrupt.
II. Examination of the Postulates
Let’s take a careful look at the postulates and ask ourselves to what
extent they are true.
Postulate 1. To see the truth of this postulate, we don’t need to rely on
the opinion of the experienced activist quoted above. It should be obvious
that vague or abstract goals can’t ordinarily serve as a basis for effective
For example, “freedom” by itself will not serve as a goal, because
different people have different conceptions of what constitutes freedom and
of the relative importance of different aspects of freedom. Consequently,
effective and consistent cooperation in pursuit of an unspecified “freedom”
is impossible. The same is true of other vague goals like “equality,” “justice”
or “protecting the environment.” For effective cooperation you need a clear
and concrete goal, so that everyone involved will have approximately the
same understanding of what the goal actually is.
Moreover, where an objective is vague or abstract, it is too easy to
pretend that the objective has been achieved, or that progress toward it is
being made, when real achievements are minimal. For example, American
politicians automatically identify “freedom” with the American way of life
regardless of the realities of day-to-day living in this country. Anything done
to protect so-called American interests abroad is described as “defending
Chapter Three: Part II
freedom,” and many Americans, probably the majority, actually accept this
For the foregoing reasons, it is usually true that a radical movement
cannot pursue vague or abstract goals successfully. But is it always true?
Maybe not. Look, for example, at the American Revolution. By May 1776
at the latest, the great majority of the American revolutionaries had accepted
independence from Britain as their objective of highest priority. 8 This objec¬
tive was clear and concrete, and it was achieved. But independence was
not the revolutionaries’ only goal: They also wanted to set up a “republi¬
can” government in America. 9 This was by no means a clear and concrete
objective, since widely differing forms of government can be described as
“republican.” Consequently, once independence had been achieved, there
were intense disagreements among the revolutionaries over the precise form
of the “republic” that was to be established. 10 Nevertheless, the revolu¬
tionaries did succeed in setting up a government that was unquestionably
republican in form and that has lasted to the present day.
Notice, however, that the revolutionaries did not set up a successful
republican government until they had already won independence from
Britain and no longer faced stiff opposition. Furthermore, they enjoyed
certain special advantages: They had as a model a form of government—
the English one—that was already halfway to being a republic. (Jefferson
referred to the English constitution as a “kind of half-way house” between
monarchy and “liberty.” 11 ) The revolutionaries shared a common heritage
of relatively “advanced” political ideas derived from English tradition and
from the works of Enlightenment philosophers. 12 England, moreover, had
long been moving in the direction of representative democracy, so the
American revolutionaries were only accelerating what was already a well
established historical trend. And they were not accelerating it so very much,
since the government they set up was still far from being fully democratic. 13
In Part III of this chapter we will see other examples in which move¬
ments have succeeded in reaching vague or abstract goals. But we know of
no well-defined examples of this kind in which the movement has faced
stiff opposition and has not been favored by a pre-existing historical trend.
It would be rash to conclude that a movement can never achieve
vague or abstract goals against stiff opposition and without the help of a
pre-existing historical trend. But it remains true that a movement that lacks
a clear and concrete goal operates under a very heavy disadvantage. The
stronger the opposition that a movement has to face, the more important
it is that the movement should be united and able to concentrate all its
energy on achieving a single objective; and this requires an objective that
is clearly defined.
Yet, even in those situations in which the need for a clear and con¬
crete objective is greatest, Postulate 1 does not imply that abstract goals
are useless. Abstract goals often play an essential role in motivating and
justifying a movement’s concrete objective. To take a crude example, an
aspiration for “freedom” may motivate and justify a movement that seeks
to overthrow a dictator.
Postulate 2 is a matter of common, everyday experience. We all
know how useless it is to try to change people’s behavior by preaching to
them—generally speaking. Actually there are some important exceptions
to Postulate 2, but before we discuss those we need to point out that some
seeming exceptions are not really exceptions at all.
It would be a mistake, for example, to suppose that the teachings of
Jesus Christ have been effective in guiding human behavior. It seems that
the earliest Christians did try to live in accord with the teachings of Jesus
(as they interpreted them), but at that stage the Christians comprised only
a tiny minority. With the passage of years, the Christian way of life was
progressively vitiated in proportion to the growing number of Christians, 14
and by the time Christianity had become dominant in the Roman Empire
few Christians still lived as those of the first century AD had done. The
world went on as before, full of war, lust, greed, and treachery.
What happened, of course, was that Christian doctrines were rein¬
terpreted to suit the convenience of the society that existed at any given
stage of history. Thus, during the Carolingian era, when Western Europe
hardly had a money economy, the biblical prohibition against “usury” 15
was held to bar all lending of money at interest. 16 But this prohibition was
relaxed when it became an obstacle to economic development, and today
it would be a rare Christian who would claim that lending at interest was
prohibited by his religion. Jesus himself—if we assume that the Gospels
accurately reflect his views—was opposed to all accumulation of wealth, 17
and the earliest Christians probably tried to live accordingly, for “as many
as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of
the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and
distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” 18 But
that didn’t last long once Christianity became widespread.
Chapter Three: Part II
Jesus’s dictum, “Do not kill,” was never intended to prohibit all kill¬
ing, but only “murder,” i.e., unjustifiable killing. 19 Christian societies ever
since have arrived at their own definitions, to suit their own needs, of what
constitutes an “unjustifiable” killing, just as they would have done if Jesus
had never lived. So it does not appear that Jesus’s teaching in this regard
has had any perceptible effect.
For another example, take Karl Marx. As a practical revolutionary
Marx was active only for about 12 years (1848-1852, 1864-1872), and
was not particularly successful; 20 his role was primarily that of a theorist,
an advocate of ideas. Yet it has sometimes been said that Marx exercised
a decisive influence on the history of the 20th century. In reality, the
people who exercised the decisive influence were the men of action (Lenin,
Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc.) who organized revolutions in the name
of Marxism. And these men, while calling themselves Marxists, never
hesitated to set Marx’s theories aside when “objective” circumstances made
it advisable for them to do so. Moreover, the societies that resulted from
their revolutions resembled the kind of society envisioned by Marx only
insofar as they were in a general way socialistic.
Marx did not invent socialism, nor did he originate the impulse to
revolution. Both socialism and revolution were “in the air” in Marx’s day,
and they weren’t in the air just because some ingenious fellow happened to
dream them up. They were in the air because they were called forth by the
social conditions of the time (as Marx himself would have been the first to
insist 21 ). If Marx had never lived there would have been revolutionaries all
the same, and they would have adopted some other socialistic thinker as
their patron saint. In that case the terminology and the details of the theory
would have been different but the subsequent political events probably
would have been much the same, because those events were determined not
by Marx’s theories but by some combination of “objective” conditions with
the decisions of the men of action who organized the socialist revolutions.
And the men of action, as we’ve pointed out, were guided less by Marx’s
theories than by the practical exigencies of revolutionary work.
Even if we assume that the political events would have been different
without Marx, the events that did occur did not represent a fulfillment
of Marx’s ideas, because, again, the societies that grew out of the socialist
revolutions did not resemble anything that Marx had foreseen or desired.
So it does not appear that Marx accomplished much through his advocacy
For similar reasons, probably very few if any of the “great thinkers”
whose ideas supposedly influenced history ever achieved their goals, except
where the thinkers were also men of action who were able to implement their
own ideas (as in the case of the Prophet Mohammed, for example). Such
thinkers, therefore, do not provide counterexamples to the principle that the
advocacy of ideas, by itself, cannot produce important, lasting changes in
human behavior (unless in some very small minority). Nevertheless, some
exceptions to Postulate 2 should be noted.
Small children are highly receptive to the teaching of their parents
and of other adults whom they respect, and principles preached to a small
child may guide his behavior for the rest of his life.
Ideas that people receive may have an important, long-lasting effect
on their behavior if the ideas are ones that many individuals can apply
for their own personal advantage. For example, the rational methods of
empirical science were at first preached only by a tiny minority, but those
ideas spread and were applied throughout the world because they were
of great practical utility to those who applied them. (Even so, scientific
rationality is consistently applied only where it is useful to those who apply
it. Scientific rationality is commonly set aside when the irrational is more
useful, for example, in certain aspects of the social sciences where the goal
is not to describe reality accurately but to provide support for an ideology
or a worldview.)
The power-structure of a modern society can change human behav¬
ior by preaching on a vast scale through the mass media with the help of
skilled professional propagandists. Maybe a group outside the established
power-structure could also change human behavior through propaganda
alone, but only if the group were sufficiently rich and powerful to undertake
a massive, sophisticated media campaign. 22 Even where human behavior
is changed by professional propagandists, however, it is doubtful that the
change is ever permanent. It seems that such changes are easily reversed
when the propaganda ceases or is replaced by propaganda that promotes
contrary ideas. Thus, the effects of Nazi propaganda in Germany, Marxist-
Leninist propaganda in the Soviet Union, and Maoist propaganda in China
faded rather quickly when those systems of propaganda were discontinued.
Postulate 3. Probably every radical movement tends to some extent
to attract persons who join it from motives that are only loosely related to
the goals of the movement. When Earth First! was founded in the 1980s,
its goal was simply the defense of wilderness, but it attracted numerous
Chapter Three: Part II
individuals of leftist type who were less interested in wilderness than in
activism for its own sake. A good example was the late Judi Bari, who
was a radical feminist, demonstrated against U.S. involvement in Central
America, and participated in the pro-choice and anti-nuclear movements.
“Eventually, she added environmentalism to her list of causes” 23 and became
an Earth Firstler. The influx of numerous individuals of this type did lead to
the blurring of Earth Firstl’s original mission, which became contaminated
with “social justice” issues. 24
Probably, however, not every radical movement is equally attractive
to persons whose goals differ from those of the movement. Because of the
personal risk involved, it’s not likely that an illegal and persecuted move¬
ment would draw many cranks and do-gooders, though on the other hand
such a movement might be attractive to adventurers who valued danger,
conspiracy, or violence for their own sake. Again, when a movement is
fully absorbed in a hard struggle (legal or not) for a single, specific, clearly
defined goal, one imagines it would attract few individuals who were not
willing to commit themselves whole-heartedly to that goal.
Whether this is true or not, it does seem true that even if many
persons having varied and diffuse goals enter a movement, the movement’s
objective does not necessarily become blurred or perverted if that objective
is simple, concrete, and clear, and if the movement is committed to it exclu¬
sively. For example, it appears that most of the early feminist leaders were
professional reformers who were interested in a variety of causes, such as
temperance (anti-alcohol), peace (anti-war), pacifism, abolition of slavery,
and so-called “progressive” causes generally. 25 Yet, once the feminist move¬
ment had become clearly focused by about 1870 on the single, overriding
goal of woman suffrage, it seems to have remained entirely faithful to that
goal until the goal was achieved in the 1920s. 26
Thus, the words “tends to” and “may” that appear in the statement
of Postulate 3 signify that the postulate does not state an inviolable law,
but only a danger to which social movements are subject. The danger,
however, is a serious one.
Postulate 4. The meaning of Postulate 4 needs to be clarified: A
movement will not necessarily be thoroughly corrupted unless it becomes
so powerful that (i) membership in the movement entails little or no risk
(whether of physical harm or of other negative consequences, such as drastic
loss of social status); and (ii) the movement is able to offer its adherents such
conventional satisfactions as money, security, positions of power, a career, or
social status—meaning social status not merely within the movement but in
society at large. Even then the movement’s ideals may retain some residual
effectiveness unless and until the movement achieves a secure position as
the dominant force in society, after which corruption becomes complete.
Subject to the foregoing clarification, Postulate 4 seems to be invari¬
ably true. People who join a radical movement while it is still relatively
weak may have goals that diverge from those of the movement, but at least
such people are not likely to be selfish in the conventional sense, because
they cannot draw the conventional advantages from their membership in
the movement. In fact, their membership may entail serious risks or sacri¬
fices. They may be motivated in part by a drive for power, but they seek to
satisfy that drive through participation in a movement that they hope will
become powerful and attain its goals. 27 There may also be struggles for
power within the movement. But the members do not expect the safe and
stable positions of power that are available in a movement that is already
powerful and firmly established.
However, once a movement can offer money, security, status, a career,
stable positions of personal power, and similar advantages, it becomes irre¬
sistibly attractive to opportunists. 28 At this stage the movement will already
have grown to be a big one with an unwieldy administrative apparatus, so
that the exclusion of opportunists will not be a practical possibility. After
the Bolsheviks became masters of Russia even Lenin, powerful as he was,
was unable to exclude the droves of opportunists who joined the party, and
according to Trotsky these people subsequently became “one of the bulwarks
of the Stalinist party regime.” 29 Moreover, when a movement has grown
excessively strong, even some of the formerly sincere revolutionaries may
give in to the temptations of power. “The history of liberation heroes shows
that when they come into office they interact with powerful groups: they
can easily forget that they’ve been put in power by the poorest of the poor.
They often lose their common touch, and turn against their own people.”
(Nelson Mandela) 30
Look at history: We know very well what happened to Christianity
after the Church became powerful. It seems that the corruption of the
clergy has usually been in direct proportion to the power of the Church at
any given time. Some of the popes have actually been depraved. 31 Islam
didn’t turn out any better. Twenty-four years after the Prophet’s death his
son-in-law, the Caliph Uthman ibn Affan, was killed by rebels, and this
Chapter Three: Part II
event was followed by power-struggles and violence among the Muslims
and a prolonged period of conflictwithin Islam. 32 Nor does the later history
of Islam indicate that it adhered to its ideals any better than Christianity
did. 33 The French Revolution was followed by the dictatorship of Napoleon,
the Russian Revolution by that of Stalin. After the Mexican Revolution
of 1910-1920, the revolutionary ideals were progressively drained of their
content until Mexico found itself under the dictatorship of a party that
continued to call itself “revolutionary” without being so in reality. 34
The sociologist Eric Hoffer wrote:
Hitler, who had a clear vision of the whole course of a movement
even while he was nursing his infant National Socialism, warned
that a movement retains its vigor only so long as it can offer nothing
in the present.... 35
According to Hitler, the more ‘posts and offices a movement has to
hand out, the more inferior stuff it will attract, and in the end these
political hangers-on overwhelm a successful party in such number
that the honest fighter of former days no longer recognizes the old
movement.... When this happens, the “mission” of such a movement
is done for.’ 36
In March 1949, when the Communists were on the verge of final victory
in China, Mao warned:
With victory, certain moods may grow within the Party—arrogance,
the airs of a self-styled hero, inertia and unwillingness to make prog¬
ress, love of pleasure and distaste for continued hard living.... The
comrades must be helped to remain modest, prudent, and free from
arrogance and rashness in their style of work. The comrades must
be helped to preserve the style of plain living and hard struggle. 37
Needless to say, Mao’s warning was futile. Already in 1957 he complained:
A dangerous tendency has shown itself of late among many of our
personnel—an unwillingness to share the joys and hardships of the
masses, a concern for personal fame and gain. 38
Today the Communist regime in China is notorious for its corruption:
Not only are Party members and government officials concerned more with
their own careers than they are with Communist ideals; 39 what is worse,
the regime is pervaded by out-and-out criminal dishonesty. 40
Shortly before the end of the American War of Independence,
Thomas Jefferson wrote:
It can never be too often repeated that the time for fixing every essen¬
tial right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest and ourselves
united. From the conclusion of this war, we shall be going downhill. 41
In fact, soon after the end of the war, quarreling and disunity broke
out among the thirteen states to such an extent that the new nation seemed
on the point of breaking up. 42 By creating the Constitution of 1787 the
revolutionaries succeeded in saving the Union, but the passage in 1798
of the anti-libertarian Alien and Sedition Acts 43 suggests a weakening
of commitment to the ideals of the Revolution even among some of the
old revolutionaries, and by the time most of the original revolutionaries
were dead not much idealism, or even integrity, seems to have been left
in American politics. 44 One has to ask why the United States did not go
the way of most Latin American countries and fall under the control of a
dictator or an oligarchy. One part of any answer to this question should
be that before the Revolution the American colonists, like their English
cousins, had already been long habituated to a semi-democratic form of
government, hence would not have been likely to create or tolerate a highly
III. Examination of the Rules
Because the rules are directly derived from the postulates, our dis¬
cussion of the rules is in some ways merely an extension or elaboration of
the foregoing discussion of the postulates.
Rule (i) asserts that a movement needs a single, clear, simple, and
The story of the so-called civil society movement in Mexico shows
what typically happens to a movement that flagrantly violates Rule (i). The
civil society movement originated in 1985, and its goals were to oppose
“concentrated, centralized power” 45 and to fight “for human rights, civil
Chapter Three: Part III
rights, political reform and social justice against the domination of the
one-party state.” 46 Thus the movement favored decentralization and “a
redistribution of power,” 47 and “tended to take the side of the underdog, to
side with peasants and workers, poor people and Indians.” 48
Obviously the civil society movement did not have a single, clear, con¬
crete goal. 49 Some sectors of the movement did adopt single, clear, concrete
goals. Forexample, the Mexican anti-nuclearmovementwas part of the civil
society movement, 50 and its single goal was to prevent the development of
nuclear energy in Mexico. It was not completely successful in achieving this,
since one nuclear power-plant was put into operation in Mexico. However,
“the anti-nuclear movement had really won on the question of Mexico’s
nuclear future,” because Mexico’s ruling party “abandoned its ambitious
plans for a dozen or more nuclear reactors.” 51
But who hears of the civil society movement today (in 2013), twenty-
eight years after it arose? The movement seems to have petered out without
having made any significant progress toward the general goals stated
above. The election in 2000 as president of Mexico of Vicente Fox of
the “conservative” (read “authoritarian”) PAN party may have seemed to
end the “domination of the one-party state” by breaking the PRI party’s
monopoly of power, but many of the PRI technocrats had actually wanted
“some sort of power-sharing arrangement with the PAN,” so that Mexico
would no longer appear to be a one-party state yet would remain effectively
under technocratic control. 52 The technocrats’ power-sharing arrangement
seems to be working out very nicely: The PAN held the presidency for two
six-year terms (2000-2012), and the PRI is now (2013) back in power. It
could be said that there has been a “redistribution of power” in Mexico;
as of 2008-2010:
In much of the country [drug gangs are] more powerful than the
government itself. Mexico’s three main drug cartels are effectively
in control of the country’s Pacific Coast, industrial heartland, and
tourist havens of the Gulf Coast. .. ,[T]he gangs... don’t hesitate to
kill the politicians, cops, and journalists they can’tbribe or intimidate.
...Yet they are folk heroes to many poor Mexicans.... [The gangs’]
ranks now include many members of Mexico’s elite special forces. At
the same time, the gangs have infiltrated much of Mexico’s power
structure. .. .They have corrupted every level of government, from
local policemen to army generals to presidential aides. 53
There are indications that Mexico’s government is now (2013) gaining
the upper hand over the drug gangs. 54 But even if the gangs were to retain
their power indefinitely, that would hardly be the kind of “redistribution
of power” that the initiators of the civil society movement had in mind.
Thus, while some sectors of the movement may have achieved their specific
goals, the movement as a whole has been a failure.
In England and the United States during the first two thirds of the
19th century, the goal of feminists was to make women equal to men in
terms of power, dignity, and opportunities within society. Since this goal is
a vague and general one, it’s not surprising that these early feminists didn’t
accomplish much. 55 But, as we saw earlier, by roughly 1870 feminists had
settled on a single, clear, simple, and concrete objective: to secure for women
the right to vote. 56 Perhaps because they realized that it was the key that
would open the door to power for women and enable them to reach other
goals, woman suffrage was the objective on which feminists concentrated
their efforts until that objective was achieved in the 1920s.
Since the 1920s the feminist movement has had no single, clear,
concrete objective. The movement has splintered into various factions
that pursue diverse objectives and are often in conflict with one another. 57
Nevertheless, Rule (i) notwithstanding, feminists have continued to make
steady progress toward their general goal—to make women equal to men in
power, dignity, and opportunities. 58 However, the feminists have had certain
critically important advantages that have offset their neglect of Rule (i).
First, the achievement of the earlier feminists’ well-chosen central
objective—the right to vote—has given women collective power: No pol¬
itician who hopes to win an election can afford to ignore women’s wants.
More importantly, the tide of history has been working in the feminists’
favor. Ever since the onset of the Industrial Revolution there has been a
powerful trend toward “equality”—meaning the elimination of all distinc¬
tions between individuals other than those distinctions that are demanded
by the needs of the technological system. Thus, a mathematician is to be
evaluated in terms of his/her mathematical talent, a mechanic in terms
of his/her knowledge of engines, a factory manager in terms of his/her
ability to run a factory, and with the passage of time it has increasingly
been expected that the religion, social class, race, gender, etc., etc. of the
mathematician, the mechanic, and the manager are to be treated as irrele¬
vant. Because the feminists’ goal of equality has been in harmony with this
historical trend, opposition to feminism has steadily declined over time,
Chapter Three: Part III
and from 1975 at the latest the media and the cultural and political climate
have been overwhelmingly favorable to gender equality.
A comparison of post-1945 British and American feminism with the
Mexican civil society movement provides an illustration of the principle that
the stronger the opposition a movement has to face, the more important it
is that the movement should concentrate all its energy on a single, clearly
defined objective. The feminists have made steady progress toward their
vague goal of gender equality, in part because they have faced no very
serious opposition since the middle of the 20th century. But the Mexican
civil society movement has faced very tough opposition from politicians
and technocrats unwilling to relinquish their power, and the movement
has therefore been doomed by its failure to concentrate on a single, clear,
In connection with Rule (i) it is also instructive to look at the history
of Ireland. From at least 1711 until the 1880s, there was chronic rural
unrest in Ireland due to the wretched conditions in which Irish peasants
had to live. 59 In 1798 there was an attempt at violent revolution, but it
failed miserably, in large part because it was unorganized, undisciplined,
and lacked a clear objective. 60
The Irish began to make progress only with the advent of Daniel
O’Connell. O’Connell was a political genius and a spellbinding orator, 61
but unlike many other political geniuses he was a sincere patriot who had
genuinely dedicated himself to the welfare of his country. O’Connell’s
ultimate objective was “the improvement of the lot of the Irish common
people.” 62 As a step toward this vague and general goal, O’Connell set
himself a clear and concrete objective, namely, “Catholic Emancipation,” 63
which meant repeal of the laws that subjected Irish Catholics to certain
political disabilities (for example, they were not allowed to become judges
or members of Parliament). 64 Catholic Emancipation would directly benefit
only a small minority who could hope to occupy important offices or be
elected to Parliament, but it would indirectly benefit the overwhelmingly
Catholic peasants of Ireland inasmuch as it would give them representation
in Parliament and (more importantly) prove that they could prevail over
the British government through collective action. 65
O’Connell created an amazingly well-organized and well-disciplined
movement dedicated to the specific goal of Catholic Emancipation, and that
goal was achieved within about six years. 66 Catholic Emancipation undoubt¬
edly would have occurred eventually anyway, since it was a development
that was guaranteed by the same historical trend toward “equality” that
favored the feminist movement. But, without O’Connell and his organi¬
zation, Catholic Emancipation probably would have been delayed for some
years, for when Emancipation was granted in 1829 it was granted grudg¬
ingly, 67 and it very likely would not have been granted at that time at all if
O’Connell had not played skillfully upon the government’s fear of another
violent uprising like that of 1798. 68 (It is worth noting, therefore, that the
1798 rebellion, even though it was ruthlessly crushed, was not in vain.)
Needless to say, excellent organization in pursuit of a single, clear,
simple, and concrete objective does not guarantee success. In 1840,
O’Connell founded a Repeal Association for the purpose of securing the
repeal of the Act of Union that placed England and Ireland under a single
Parliament. The objective was not to separate Ireland from England but to
create a specifically Irish Parliament, while Ireland would remain united
with England under a single sovereign. 69 Again O’Connell built a highly
disciplined movement that had broad support among the Irish people, but
this time he failed to achieve his objective, for the British government and
Parliament remained obdurate, and the Act of Union was not repealed. 70
A contributing factor in the failure of O’Connell’s Repeal Association
was the Great Potato Famine of 1846-49. When peasants were starving to
death in droves, O’Connell’s political goal seemed irrelevant to them. 71 In
1847, during the famine, a faction within the Repeal Association formed
a new organization called the Irish Confederation. 72 The new group soon
recognized that it needed some specific goal, 73 but apparently was unable
to agree on one until the revolutions of 1848 broke out on the European
continent. Inspired by these events, the Irish Confederation adopted violent
revolution as its goal, presumably for the purpose of making Ireland inde¬
pendent of Britain. 74 That same year an uprising attempted by the radicals
failed, in part because of the radicals’ incompetence, but even more because
they had no popular support. The common people were concerned only with
their own immediate material welfare, or indeed with their very survival,
and had little interest in the Confederation’s nationalism. 75
By 1856, a leader named James Stephens (a survivor of the 1848
uprising) had definitely settled on the clear, concrete objective of total
political independence for Ireland. 76 Independence was to be followed by
the establishment of a “republic,” 77 but the imprecision of this second goal
was perhaps not very important, because a republic would not be estab¬
lished until independence had been achieved. Thus, the imprecise goal of
Chapter Three: Part III
founding a republic would not necessarily interfere with efforts toward the
clear and specific goal of independence. (Compare the case of the American
revolutionaries, discussed above.)
Stephens, a brilliant organizer, created a powerful revolutionary
movement 78 that in 1867 attempted an uprising for the purpose of separating
Ireland from Britain. For reasons not relevant to the present discussion,
the uprising failed ignominiously. 79 But from that time until 1916 the aspi¬
ration for total independence from Britain was kept alive by a minuscule
minority of extreme nationalists who had virtually no support among the
general population of Ireland. 80 Irish peasants at first were concerned only
to secure relief from the oppression of the landlords, and had no interest in
nationalist ideals. Eventual relief of the peasants’ suffering was guaranteed
by the general liberalizing trend of Western civilization, but the process
was accelerated by the efforts of Parnell and Gladstone, 81 so that the con¬
dition of the peasants was alleviated step by step until by 1910 at the latest
they no longer had any grievance serious enough to provide a motive for
radical action. 82
Thus, by the second decade of the 20th century, the Irish no longer
had any plausible reason to separate themselves from Britain, nor did such a
separation have the appearance of a historical inevitability. Nevertheless, the
extremists’ stubborn persistence in adhering to their goal of total indepen¬
dence did pay off in the end. It is a remarkable fact that between 1916 and
1921 the tiny minority of extreme nationalists, who at first lacked signifi¬
cant support, were able to swing the majority of the Irish population over to
their side. Through terroristic tactics and guerrilla warfare, the nationalists
provoked the British government to harsh countermeasures that alienated
the Irish masses and drove them into the arms of the revolutionaries. 83 The
result was not immediate and complete independence for Ireland. The mil¬
itary situation forced the revolutionaries to stop (temporarily) just short of
their goal by accepting “dominion status”; that is, a relationship to Britain
similar to that of Canada. 84 This made Ireland practically an independent
country with ties to Britain that were little more than symbolic; and even
so the revolutionaries never regarded the settlement as final, but only as
a stepping stone to the total independence that was to be reached later. 85
Nevertheless, a powerful faction of the nationalist movement, under
the political leadership of Eamon de Valera, refused to accept dominion
status and was suppressed only through a brief but bloody civil war. 86 A
remnant of the dissident faction continued to exist, but most of it was
subsequently integrated as a normal component of Ireland’s parliamentary
system. 87 De Valera was for many years the Prime Minister of Ireland, and
by 1949 at the latest had made his country totally independent of Britain—
with the ready acquiescence of the British themselves. 88
Thus, in the end, the extreme Irish nationalists did achieve the one
clear, simple, concrete goal that for many decades had been the center of
their aspirations. 89 It was moreover a goal that probably would never have
been reached without the nationalists’ efforts, for, as noted earlier, there
was no apparent historical reason why Ireland had to become independent 90
(unless the reason was the existence of the nationalists themselves).
Independence was unmistakably the extreme nationalists’ dominant
goal until it was very nearly achieved with dominion status in 1922. But
what about the nationalists’ other goals? It can probably be said of each
of their other goals that either the goal would have been reached anyway
through the operation of general historical trends and without any effort
on the part of the nationalists; or the achievement of the goal was merely
symbolic; or else the goal was achieved only in an incomplete form that
would have been unsatisfactory to the original revolutionaries.
One goal of the 19th-century Irish revolutionaries was the relief of
the peasants’ misery, and the revolutionaries may have hastened the achieve¬
ment of this goal insofar as the British fear of revolutionary violence made
the task of reformers like Parnell easier. 91 But, as we’ve already pointed
out, the eventual relief of the peasants’ misery was guaranteed anyway by
a pre-existing historical trend that prevailed throughout Western Europe.
Another goal of the extreme nationalists was the establishment of
a “republic.” This goal was a vague one since, as we mentioned in con¬
nection with the American Revolution, a wide variety of states can be
called “republics.” Constitutional monarchies such as Britain, Spain, or
the Netherlands are not technically republics, but in practical terms their
systems differ little from those of undoubted republics like France or the
United States. When Ireland was officially declared a republic in 1949,
little was changed; 92 “republic” was hardly more than a word or a symbol. 93
If the term “republic” were taken to mean “representative democracy,” we
would say that Ireland was already a republic in substance long before it
became one officially. And, once the goal of independence was reached,
Ireland would have become a representative democracy anyway through
the operation of pre-existing historical trends, just as every other country
in Western Europe has become a representative democracy. And it is not
Chapter Three: Part III
certain that Ireland has become a republic in a sense that would have sat¬
isfied the original revolutionaries, for at least some of these seem to have
had something more socialistic in mind. 94
In addition, the revolutionaries wanted to avoid “Anglicization” of
Ireland and preserve Irish language and culture. 95 In this it can’t be said that
the revolutionaries failed completely, but their success has been unimpressive
at best. Irish Gaelic today is the first language of only a small fraction of
the Irish population. Though it is taught in the schools and is “more widely
read, spoken, and understood [as of 2003] than during most of the 20th
century,” 96 it seems unlikely that the majority of modern Irish people are
fluent in Gaelic; for, among people who learn a language only in school,
no more than a small minority ever become fluent in it. Ireland is basically
an English-speaking country, from which it follows that Ireland must be
subject to considerable cultural influence from other English-speaking
countries. Whether or not it is accurate to speak of an “Anglicization” of
Ireland, there can be no doubt that Ireland (with the possible exception of
a few isolated areas that may not yet be fully modernized) has undergone
the same cultural homogenization that has occurred in the rest of Western
Europe, and in all probability modern Ireland differs culturally from other
Western European countries no more than these countries differ among
themselves. It may well be that traditional arts, crafts, music, etc. are now
practiced in Ireland more than they would have been without the efforts
of the nationalists, but it is certain that the basic culture of Ireland today
is the universal culture of modern industrial society. It follows that tradi¬
tional arts and crafts can be no more than gimmicks that serve to entertain
tourists or to give the Irish themselves an illusion of temporary escape from
the modern world.
Would this degree of linguistic and cultural preservation have sat¬
isfied the revolutionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries? Probably
not. “Few Irishmen today would accept that what Irish nationalists have
achieved represents a true fulfillment of that near-mystical ideal for which,
in one form or another, Irishmen had striven for so long.” 97
Thus, while it can’t be said that the Irish revolutionaries achieved
no success at all in other areas, their one unmistakable and complete suc¬
cess was in reaching the single, clear, simple, and concrete goal that had
been their main objective for several decades: to make Ireland politically
independent of Britain.
The examples of feminism and Irish nationalism (among others) show
that Rule (i) cannot correctly be understood to mean that no social move¬
ment can ever achieve any success at all without concentrating exclusively
on a single, clear, simple, concrete objective. But these and other examples
that we’ve looked at do support the proposition that every movement that
hopes to achieve something had better give careful consideration to Rule
(i) and should deviate from the rule only if there is a definite, strong, and
convincing reason for doing so.
Rule (a) states that if a movement aspires to transform a society, then
the objective selected by the movement must be of such a nature that the
social changes wrought by the achievement of the objective will be irre¬
versible—meaning that the changes will survive even without any further
effort on the part of the movement or anyone else. The reason is that the
movement, once in power, will become “corrupt”; i.e., will no longer be
faithful to its earlier goals and ideals.
For example, the feminists’ achievement of woman suffrage is irre¬
versible because (among other reasons) now that women have the right to
vote, it cannot be taken away from them through democratic processes
without the consent of most women—consent that they would hardly be
likely to give even in the absence of an effective and uncorrupted feminist
movement. Of course, the feminists’ achievement is not irreversible in any
absolute sense. Women could lose the right to vote in the event of some
sweeping transformation of society, such as an end of the democratic form
The theocratic republic set up in Geneva by Calvin 98 provides a prob¬
able example in which a movement achieved its objective and the associated
social changes were later reversed due to corruption of the movement. What
seems to happen more often, though, is that a movement becomes corrupt
before it reaches its objective, so that the objective is never fully achieved
in the first place. Thus, in Russia, the Bolshevik/Communist movement
was corrupted while the construction of a socialist society was still in its
early stages, so that the kind of socialist society envisioned by the original
Bolsheviks was never attained. 99 The French Revolution was corrupted
before it even came close to creating the type of society envisioned by any
of the revolutionary factions.
This writer is not aware of even one unarguable example in which a
revolutionary movement has concentrated its efforts on a single ., clear ; simple.
Chapter Three: Part III
concrete objective (as required by Rule (i)) and has achieved the objective, and
the achievement has subsequently been reversed due to corruption of the
movement. Once a clear, simple, concrete objective has been achieved, its
achievement no doubt is less easily reversed than that of a vague or complex
objective, because its reversal would be too obvious, too hard to disguise.
This is another reason why a movement should obey Rule (i).
The establishment of a democratic government is not a very clear and
precise objective, because there are considerable differences among the vari¬
ous kinds of government that today are called “democratic.” But democratic
government is at least a much clearer objective than such vague goals as
“freedom,” “equality,” “justice,” “socialism,” or “protecting the environment.”
From the history of many countries scattered around the world we know
how reversible the achievement of democracy can be. The overthrow of a
democratic government through a military coup was once such a common
event in Latin America and Africa that news of such a coup hardly raised
an eyebrow in Western Europe or the United States. A military coup usu¬
ally represents not the corruption of democracy but a victory of those who
never wanted democracy in the first place. But the death of a democracy
through corruption (in our sense of the word) has probably been even more
common than the military coup, and when this happens the external forms
of democracy often are retained even while an individual or an oligarchy
takes effective control of the country. We’ve seen this in Russia since the
breakup of the Soviet Union: Vladimir Putin was originally a protege of
Boris Yeltsin, the great champion of Russian democracy, and Russia still
retains all the usual apparatus of parliamentary democracy. Yet it is said
that Putin is now almost a dictator. 100
In Latin America, democracy has routinely been corrupted. A group
of Argentine scholars presents the following example as typical:
The center of gravity of control passed softly and silently from the
State to a restricted economic and social apparatus (inside groups)
that constituted a privileged system of enrichment. The acquisition
of a license for importation or for exchange made more men rich in
less time than any other activity, including speculation in land. This
is how the families dominant in the financial sector entered political
channels.... There occurred a metamorphosis of the ‘group of fam¬
ilies,’ which, incidentally allied for the purpose of negotiating with
the State... turned into a stable, indissolubly united oligarchy for the
organisms of political activity... in the parties, in the government...
and in order to establish a system of privilege. 101
A democratic government can easily be subverted because it is a
complicated mechanism and the concept of “democracy” itself is far from
precise, so that subtle or covert changes can accumulate over time until one
day people wake up to find that their country is no longer a functioning
democracy. Compare democracy with the clear and simple achievements
of the feminists and the Irish nationalists—the right to vote and political
independence for Ireland, respectively. Because of the clarity and simplicity
of these achievements, they could not easily be undermined covertly. Note,
however, that while impairment of Ireland’s formal political independence
would be obvious, Ireland could become dependent on Britain economically
or in some other way.
Though the establishment of democratic government has so often
been a reversible social change, it cannot be said that democratization per se
is reversible. Whether it is reversible or irreversible in a given case depends
on the culture and history of the country in which the democratic gov¬
ernment is set up, and on the international situation in which the country
finds itself. The more or less democratic system set up by the American
revolutionaries survived despite the fading of revolutionary idealism, in
part because the American colonists had already been long habituated to a
semi-democratic form of government. Today in Latin America functioning
democratic governments seem to have a better chance of success than they
did a few decades ago, probably because the cultural and economic changes
associated with modernization have raised the level of social discipline in
those countries. Another factor to be considered is that the international
climate has become more unfavorable to obvious dictatorships (by an indi¬
vidual or by a party), and nations are now under pressure to maintain at
least the appearance of democracy. In Africa, for example, international aid
organizations left The Gambia after a military coup in 1994 but resumed
assistance to that country following its return to democratic forms; 102 assis¬
tance to Tanzania from the International Monetary Fund apparently was
conditioned on political reforms in 1986; 103 in Kenya, “Western financial
aid came to be tied to demands for political and economic reforms,” so that
in 1991 there was a “constitutional amendment that reinstated multiparty
elections.” 104 On the other hand, it must seriously be doubted whether
Chapter Three: Part III
democracy is a functioning reality in those countries. Kenya, 105 at least, is
not a democracy in the sense in which that term is understood in Western
Europe and the United States.
As the foregoing discussion indicates, the problem of predicting
whether a social change will be reversible or irreversible in a given case
can be subtle and difficult. Consequently, Rule (ii) may often be hard to
apply in practice. Rule (ii) is important nevertheless. The essential point of
the rule is that a movement builds its foundation on quicksand if it bases its
strategy on the assumption that faithfulness to the movement’s ideals will
be sustained indefinitely and independently of the immediate self-interest
of the people who are in positions of power. What a nascent movement
needs to ask itself in choosing its objective is whether the resulting social
changes, once achieved, will survive in an atmosphere in which people are
motivated more by short-term self-interest than by dedication to ideals—
which indeed is the normal atmosphere in any society. Even though this
question may often be difficult to answer with any degree of confidence,
it needs to be asked and considered carefully.
Rule (iii) states that once an objective has been selected, some small
minority must undertake organization for practical action (as opposed to
mere preaching or advocacy of ideas) in the service of the objective. Three
points must be noted, however:
First, while ideas by themselves will not transform a society, the devel¬
opment and propagation of ideas must be a part of any rational effort to
transform a society. Without some organized set of ideas to guide its action,
a movement will flounder aimlessly. It may generate more or less uproar, but
if it accomplishes anything more than that it will do so merely through luck.
The Whiteboy Movement of 18th-century Ireland consisted of
guerrilla-like peasant bands that roamed the countryside at night taking
revenge on the landlords and on those peasants who were too ready to
cooperate with the landlords. 106 But the members of these bands were
uneducated men whose limited ideas did not enable them to envision
anything beyond resistance to specific local abuses. 107 Only in the 1790s,
with the arrival of ideas from revolutionary France, did the Irish peasant
rebels begin to acquire some notion of changing society. 108 At the time of
the attempted revolution of 1798 their ideas in this direction were still too
confused to provide them with a clear objective, 109 and their lack of a clear
objective was probably a contributing factor in their defeat. 110
Contrast the Irish peasants of 1798 with the workers of Saint
Petersburgwho revolted in February 1917: These workers had already been
indoctrinated with Marxist ideas by the Bolsheviks, consequently their
insurrection was purposeful and successful. 111
Second, while both ideas and organization for practical action are
necessary components of any rational and successful effort to change a
society, the people who organize for practical action need not be the same
individuals as the theorists who develop and propagate the ideas. In Ireland,
again, nationalist ideas and the aspiration for independence from Britain
were already well developed among the extremist minority prior to the
advent of Michael Collins in 1917. 112 Collins does not seem to have been a
theorist, but it was he who organized the successful guerrilla war that led
to Ireland’s independence in 1922. 113
However, for theorists who do not themselves organize for practical
action, there is a grave danger: The men of action who do organize, pur¬
portedly in the service of the theorists’ ideas, may reinterpret or distort the
ideas so that the results are very different from what the theorists envisioned.
Martin Luther was appalled at the social rebellion that his ideas called
forth, 114 and we’ve already pointed out that Marxist revolutionaries like
Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, and Castro deviated from Marx’s ideas when¬
ever they found it convenient to do so. Here again we see the importance
of Rule (i), that is, of the need to select a clear, simple, concrete objective:
Neither Marx nor Luther formulated such an objective, and because their
ideas were complex their ideas could easily be misunderstood or distorted.
In contrast, by the time Michael Collins assumed leadership of the Irish
nationalist movement, the nationalists had already settled on total political
independence from Britain as their central objective—an objective of such
clarity and simplicity that it could hardly be misunderstood or distorted.
Third, preaching, or the advocacy of ideas, is by far the easier part of
an effort to change a society; organizing for practical action is vastly more
difficult. This at least is true today; it may not always have been true in
Martin Luther was an intellectual leader, but he was not a man
of action: He even declined to try to carry out the “institutional church
reforms” that he himself had called for. 115 Yet his preaching and his daring
theological ideas aroused tremendous ferment, as a result of which armies
were organized and wars fought. 116 It appears that organization for prac¬
tical action occurred quickly and easily once Luther’s ideas became widely
Chapter Three: Part III
known. In those days the educated sector of society was relatively tiny,
and the expression of dissident ideas could entail considerable personal
risk. (Luther’s forerunner Jan Hus was burned at the stake for his ideas. 117 )
Consequently, newideas were a scarce commodity, and intense dissatisfac¬
tions could long fester unarticulated for lack of anyone to articulate them.
A thinker who was bold enough to express dissent publicly and able to do
so eloquently might trigger a release of pent-up resentments. When this
occurred it was probably much easier to organize a rebellion in those days
than it is now, because people were much less effectively conditioned to
obedience, docility, and passivity than they are today. In fact, by modern
standards the people of Luther’s time were lawless. 118
Nowadays, however, there is a surfeit of ideas, including dissident
and even outrageous ones. Artists and writers strive to outdo one another
in thumbing their noses at conventional values. Consequently new ideas,
however outrageous, evoke a yawn from many people, from others only
an expression of irritation, and serve the remainder of the population as
mere entertainment. To their contemporaries, the ideas of men like Hus
and Luther suggested the possible opening of a new era, but no ideas do
that today because new ideas are so commonplace that no one takes them
seriously any more. Except, of course, technological ideas.
At present, organization for practical action is more difficult not only
because new ideas no longer evoke a strong response, but also because of
people’s docility, passivity, and “learned helplessness.” 119 Professional polit¬
ical operatives do exploit people’s discontents to organize support for their
parties, candidates, or movements, but this only makes the task of orga¬
nization more difficult for amateurs, who are poorly equipped to compete
with skilled professionals for people’s attention and commitment.
Thus, whatever may have been the case in the past, in the modern
world the critical challenge for anyone wishing to transform society is not
the propagation of ideas, but organization for practical action.
Rule (tv) states that in order to keep itself faithful to its objective, a
movement should devise means of excluding all unsuitable persons who
may seek to join it.
It is difficult to examine this rule in the light of historical exam¬
ples, because very little relevant information seems to be available in the
histories of past movements. 120 Hardly any evidence known to this writer
suggests that past movements had explicit policies designed to exclude
unsuitable persons, but probably many movements have had informal or
even unconscious means of excluding persons perceived as unsuitable. For
example, such persons might simply have been given the cold shoulder at
meetings. But one may doubt the effectiveness of such unsystematic ways
of keeping a movement “pure.”
Prior to their seizure of power in October 1917, the Bolsheviks prob¬
ably were highly selective in accepting new members, since Lenin was
“always extremely sensitive to the question of the ingredients of the party.” 121
This selectiveness may have played an important role in the success of the
Bolsheviks as a revolutionary party. (As we saw in discussing Postulate 4
above, once the Bolsheviks/Communists were in power, it proved impossible
to screen out the droves of opportunists who sought to join them.)
In the years preceding the Communist victory in China, Mao repeat¬
edly referred to the problem of weeding out the “careerists,” “saboteurs,”
“degenerates,” “undesirables,” and “traitors” who “sneaked” into the Party. 122
But nowhere in the Selected Readings from his works does Mao explain what
he means by “saboteurs,” “degenerates,” etc., nor does he tell us how these
individuals are to be identified and excluded.
In 1841 there was an attempt to set up a utopian community at Brook
Farm in Massachusetts. Though the community was linked with the dis¬
tinguished intellectuals of the Transcendental Club it failed within a few
years, 123 perhaps in part because it was joined by too many of “the conceited,
the crotchety, the selfish, the headstrong, the pugnacious, the unappreci¬
ated, the played-out, the idle, the good-for-nothing generally; who, finding
themselves utterly out of place and at a discount in the world as it is, rashly
concluded that they are exactly fitted for the world as it ought to be.” 124
It has been suggested that the Brook Farm experiment would have had a
better chance of success if “standards of recruitment” had been applied. 125
The fact that the 19th-century feminist movement lent its support
to Victoria Woodhull, who was a spiritualist charlatan and an advocate
of a crackpot variety of socialism, 126 suggests that the movement may not
have been highly selective in accepting participants. If that is true, then the
movement may have been saved by its focus on the single goal of woman
suffrage. As was mentioned in the discussion of Postulate 3, if a movement’s
goal is clear, simple, and concrete, the goal perhaps will not be so easily
blurred or perverted by unsuitable persons who join the movement.
In relation to Rule (iv) there is also the question of where to draw
the boundary of the “movement” from which unsuitable persons are to be
excluded. If a movement has an inner circle and an outer circle, and if the
Chapter Three: Part III
inner circle maintains firm control over the outer circle, then exclusion of
unsuitable persons from the inner circle maybe sufficient even if all comers
are admitted to the outer circle.
It’s very probable that the Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell had his
movement for Catholic Emancipation firmly under his own personal control
for the six years of its existence, 127 1823-29. But whatever may have been
the degree of O’Connell’s personal control over it, his superbly organized
and highly disciplined 128 movement must have been governed by some
limited inner circle that presumably was kept “pure” through formal or
informal selectiveness in recruitment. Recruitment to the outer circle of
the movement was indiscriminate—anyone could join by paying mini¬
mal dues 129 —but the controlling inner circle evidently kept the movement
faithful to its objective.
Referring to the period about 1908-1912, the historian writes of the
extreme Irish nationalist movement:
Sinn Fein...[was] a rallying point for all radical, dissatisfied and
potentially disappointed individual nationalists in Ireland. The hybrid
nature of its support with an overlap of poets, eccentrics, members
of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, politically-minded Gaelic
Leaguers and frustrated parliamentarians had been the movement’s
chief characteristic. Many lone wolves with a romantic or otherwise
obsessional love of Ireland that had been born of Irish history, but
frustrated in the present, gravitated towards Sinn Fein. As with every
movement that attracts rebels there were those who [were impelled
by] obscure psychological motives of their own. 130
Evidently, then, any Irishman “opposed to British rule in Ireland” 131
could participate in Sinn Fein, and like many other radical movements it
attracted a motley assortment of oddballs. But it is possible to identify with
a reasonable degree of confidence the factors that rescued the movement
from impotence. First, the movement was focused on the single, clear,
simple, concrete objective of total political independence for Ireland, 132
and, as noted earlier, such an objective is not as easily perverted as a more
diffuse one. Moreover, beginning in 1917, Michael Collins with a limited
inner circle of collaborators progressively took over effective control of
the movement, 133 and the inner circle, because it was relatively small, was
probably easy to keep “pure” (i.e., faithful to the movement’s objective) even
without formal standards of recruitment. It’s true that Collins and his inner
circle were by no means able to control in detail the actions of their guerrilla
fighters, 134 but involvement in a guerrilla war was itself a powerful factor
in keeping the movement faithful to its objective. If a movement is locked
in a desperate struggle, that fact will tend strongly to unite the movement
behind its leaders and behind its principal objective. 135
In summary, this writer has found very little evidence concerning any
formal or informal, conscious or unconscious means that may have been
used to exclude unsuitable persons from radical movements of the past. It
is clear, however, that the kinds of people who join a movement necessarily
have a profound effect on its character and can blur or change its goals.
If some of the movements we’ve looked at have remained faithful to their
goals without any premeditated effort to exclude unsuitable persons, then
they’ve been lucky. A nascent movement that is not content to depend on
luck needs to give close attention to the question of the kinds of people
who are to comprise the movement.
Rule (v) states that once a revolutionary movement has become
powerful enough to achieve its objective it must achieve its objective soon
thereafter, before the movement is corrupted (as Postulate 4 affirms it
As noted in the discussion of Postulate 4, this writer has found no
exception to the law that when a radical movement grows too powerful it
is soon corrupted; that is, it ceases to be faithful to its original goals and
ideals. From this law the importance of Rule (v) is obvious. It will never¬
theless be instructive to see how Rule (v) relates to some of the examples
we’ve looked at.
In Russia, the kind of socialism envisioned by the revolutionaries
could not have been built within any brief period. Consequently, as pointed
out in the discussion of Rule (ii), the construction of a socialist society
was still in its early stages when the Bolshevik/Communist movement
was corrupted, with the result that socialism as conceived by the original
Bolsheviks was never achieved at all.
It seems that democratization movements in any country, once they’ve
achieved power, usually set up representative democracies soon thereafter.
(Whether these democracies survive is another question, as we’ve seen.)
Butthe French revolutionaries of the 1790s were unable to set up a properly
functioning democratic government promptly. The exact point at which the
French Revolution was corrupted may be open to argument, but certainly
Chapter Three: Part III
it had been corrupted by the time Napoleon became First Consul. When
that happened, it was too late to establish a representative democracy.
In Mexico following the revolution of 1910-1920, the revolution¬
aries did not bring social justice to the peasants all at once but sought
“a more conservative evolution... and more stability in government.” 136
Progress toward social justice for the peasants essentially ended in 1940
when Lazaro Cardenas, one of the original revolutionaries, concluded his
term as president. 137 Thus, delay in fulfillment of the revolutionary ideal
prevented its complete fulfillment. Even the partial fulfillment of the ideal
that had been achieved was largely reversed under President Salinas de
Gortari (1988-1994). 138
In England and the United States the feminist movement achieved
its central goal—woman suffrage—as soon as it was powerful enough to
do so. Since then the feminist movement, though splintered into various
factions, has remained sufficiently powerful to make continued progress
toward total equality for women, as described earlier in this chapter, but, as
far as this writer knows, the movement has not been seriously corrupted in
the sense of allowing the personal ambitions of its members or its leaders
to supersede the movement’s ideal of equality of the sexes.
However, Rule (v) refers to revolutionary movements, and feminism
today is not a revolutionary movement. When it emerged during the first
half of the 19th century feminism might perhaps have been called revolu¬
tionary, since immediate implementation of the feminists’ demands would
have entailed a fairly radical alteration of society. But, as noted earlier,
feminism was favored by the historical trend toward “equality” in general,
and by the time feminists acquired the right to vote in the 1920s their
movement could no longer be considered revolutionary; one would hardly
say that the achievement of woman suffrage caused a social earthquake.
Still less is the feminists’ goal of total gender equality a revolutionary one
Because its goals have not been of revolutionary magnitude, the fem¬
inist movement has not had to grow powerful enough to become attractive
to opportunists. Membership in feminist organizations today does not in
any substantial degree earn a woman such personal advantages as money,
power, or social status. 139 A woman seeking such advantages will enter a
career in business, government, politics, or the professions, not in a feminist
organization. Thus Postulate 4 and Rule (v) do not apply.
In the case of the Irish nationalist movement the issue is somewhat
complicated. By achieving dominion status in 1922 the nationalists reached
the main part of their goal, and they reached it as soon as they were pow¬
erful enough to do so.
It’s not clear that it would be reasonable to say that the movement
thereafter became corrupt in the sense of being no longer faithful to the
goal, because the goal was already mostly achieved. Yet, once the movement
was in power, it split into two factions over the oath of allegiance to the
British crown that members of the new Irish Parliament had to take. 140 The
more extreme faction, led by Eamon de Valera, regarded the members of
the other faction (which accepted the oath) as sell-outs (as “corrupted” in
our sense of the word) for giving in to the British on this largely symbolic
De Valera’s faction eventually came into power, but nevertheless
remained faithful to its goal of total independence from Britain until, by
1949, the objectionable oath had been eliminated, Ireland had been for¬
mally declared a republic, and the last vestiges of political dependence on
Britain had disappeared. But all this took place under the leadership of de
Valera, 142 who was one of the original revolutionaries. 143 Postulate 4 does
not assert that a successful revolutionary movement is corrupted until all
of its original leaders have become politically inactive.
Moreover, in another sense it could be argued that even de Valera’s
faction of the Irish nationalist movement was corrupted, for a certain frac¬
tion of Ireland (“Northern Ireland”) remains tied to Britain even today as
part of the United Kingdom. 144 The original Irish revolutionaries regarded
such a partition of their country as unacceptable; their goal was indepen¬
dence for all of Ireland. 145 At least until 1998, the Republic of Ireland
maintained a nominal claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland, but
there were no efforts on the part of mainstream Irish politicians to make
that claim effective. 146 These politicians, like politicians everywhere, have
no doubt been concerned primarily with their own careers. (They are “cor¬
rupt” in our sense.)
Thus, having been unable to take Northern Ireland from the British
soon after they acquired power, the Irish nationalists lost that territory
forever, or at least for the foreseeable future. 147 There still exist offshoots
of the original Irish nationalist movement 148 (Sinn Fein and the IRA, the
Provisional IRA, the Real IRA, the Effective IRA, or whatever the latest
faction of a faction of a faction is called) that maybe uncorrupted in the
Chapter Three: Part IV
sense of remaining faithful to the goal of independence for all of Ireland,
but these offshoots do not have great power, hence Postulate 4 does not
apply to them.
The Reformation was not the work of a single movement but a com¬
plex event in which several theological movements, such as those of Luther,
Zwingli, and Calvin, competed with one another, 149 and in which various
princes participated for reasons that likely had more to do with their own
practical advantage than with religious conviction. 150 Thus an examination
of the Reformation in relation to Postulate 4 and Rule (v) would be com¬
plicated and would require a detailed knowledge of the period.
As we’ve seen from the examples reviewed here, our five rules are not
to be taken as rigid laws that every radical movement must consciously obey
on pain of total failure. In many situations the interpretation of the rules
may be difficult and complicated, or the application of some of the rules
may be impossible or unnecessary. The rules nevertheless are important
because, at the least, they set forth problems that every radical movement
needs to study carefully. A movement that does not consciously address the
problems represented by the rules may possibly succeed through mere luck,
but its chances of success will be very much less than those of a movement
that takes the rules into consideration.
In the next section we will see how present-day efforts to deal with
the problems generated by modern technology, including the problem of
environmental devastation, are doomed to failure through neglect of the
IV. The Application
Let’s start with Chellis Glendinning’s “Notes Toward a Neo-Luddite
Manifesto,” which can be found in an anthology compiled by David
Skrbina. 151 Glendinning’s statement of the goals of neo-luddism is long
and complicated, and most of the stated goals are hopelessly vague. Here
is a sample:
We favor the creation of technologies in which politics, morality, ecology,
and technics are mergedfor the benefit of life on Earth:
• Community-based energy sources utilizing solar, wind, and water
technologies—which are renewable and enhance both community
relations and respect for nature;
• Organic, biological technologies... which derive directly from natural
models and systems;
• Conflict resolution technologies —which emphasize cooperation,
understanding, and continuity of relationship; and
• Decentralized social technologies —which encourage participation,
responsibility, and empowerment.
...We favor the development of a life-enhancing worldview in Western
technological societies. We hope to instill a perception of life, death,
and human potential into technological societies that will integrate
the human need for creative expression, spiritual experience and
community with the capacity for rational thought and functionality.
We perceive the human role not as the dominator of other species
and planetary biology, but as integrated into the natural world with
appreciation for the sacredness of all life.
One can hardly imagine a more flagrant violation of Rule (i), which
states that a movement needs a single, clear, simple, concrete goal. Nor is
this a case in which vague, generalized goals may be attainable because
a movement faces no serious opposition and is favored by a pre-existing
historical trend. On the contrary, modern society is driven hard along its
present technological path by the vigorous, determined, unremitting efforts
of innumerable, deeply-committed scientists, engineers, and administrators,
and by desperate competition for power among large organizations. Under
these circumstances, the vagueness and complexity of Glendinning’s goals
are by themselves sufficient to guarantee the failure of her proposals.
What about Rule (v), which requires that a successful revolutionary
movement achieve its goals promptly, before corruption sets in? As the
basis for a thorough reorganization of society (radical enough to be called
a revolution even if nonviolent), Glendinning’s proposal demands the cre¬
ation of a broad range of technologies, most of which differ widely from
any well-developed technologies that exist today. The creation of these
technologies, if possible at all, would require extensive, systematic research,
vast resources, and a great deal of time. A neo-luddite movement would
Chapter Three: Part IV
be able to gain control over the resources it needed only if it became big,
powerful, and well-organized, hence ripe for corruption. In order to carry
out the necessary social reorganization, the movement would even have to
be the dominant force in society, and the process of reorganization would
surely take at least a few decades—say forty years at a minimum. By that
time the movement’s original leaders would all be out of action and the
movement would be corrupt, as guaranteed by Postulate 4. Consequently,
the reorganization of society in accord with neo-luddite principles would
never be completed.
Let’s nevertheless make the improbable assumption that society had
been transformed in the way advocated by Glendinning. Would the trans¬
formation be irreversible, as Rule (ii) requires? That is, would society remain
in its transformed condition without continuing effort by the neo-luddites?
Not a chance! As discussed in Chapter Two, natural selection guaran¬
tees that conflict and competition for power would re-emerge after the
neo-luddite utopia had been established. Even if one rejects the argument
of Chapter Two, it is an observable fact that human affairs have usually if
not always been characterized by conflict and competition, whether within
societies or between different societies. Glendinning does not explain what
would prevent conflict and competition from reappearing and wrecking
the neo-luddite utopia. In practice, the neo-luddite movement would be
corrupted, just as every other radical movement that has become the dom¬
inant force in a society has been corrupted. Neo-luddite ideals would be
forgotten or would receive only lip-service, and the continued existence of
modern technology (which Glendinning does not contemplate eliminating)
would ensure society’s inevitable return to its present destructive trajectory.
As for Rule (iii), Glendinning shows no awareness of the need to form
an organized movement committed to practical action. Apparently, either
she thinks she and other neo-luddites can transform society just by preach¬
ing, or else she hopes someone else will do the hard work of organizing an
effective movement. As we noticed earlier, the advocacy of ideas is easy;
what is difficult is the task of organizing for practical action. Confronted
with this task, people like Glendinning feel intimidated. They are appalled
at the catastrophic growth of the technological system and they want to do
something about it, but they are too helpless and ineffectual to face up to
the formidable challenge of building a movement. So to give themselves
the illusion that they are “doing something” they preach about the way
they think we should deal with technology or with the devastation of our
environment. The result is that we have an abundance of dreamy utopian
schemes for saving the world, but in practical terms nothing gets done.
There are of course groups that do organize themselves in pursuit
of fairly definite goals of limited scope; for example, groups like the Sierra
Club that try to preserve wilderness. And they do accomplish something—a
little bit—but what they accomplish is insignificant in relation to the prob¬
lem of technology in general. The insignificance of their accomplishments
is guaranteed by the limited scope of their goals.
Since Glendinning doesn’t even mention the need to form an orga¬
nized movement, the question of Rule (iv) (that a movement should find
means of excluding unsuitable persons) does not arise.
But the worst is that Glendinning is utterly naive; she doesn’t even
show any awareness that the problems indicated by Rules (i) through (v)
exist. Her neo-luddite scheme therefore is no better than any of the other
unreal utopian fantasies that have misled the unwary ever since Plato
dreamed up his ideal republic.
Skrbina’s anthology also contains an essay by Arne Naess, the
Norwegian philosopher who coined the term “deep ecology.” 152 Taken
simply as criticisms of the technological system, many of Naess’s remarks
are quite valid. But it appears that Naess wants to bring about far-reaching,
fundamental changes in the way the system functions in the real world,
and to the extent his ideas are intended to lead us toward that practical
objective, they are totally useless.
Naess’s goals are—if such a thing is possible—even more diffuse
than those proposed by Glendinning. In fact, Naess in this essay does not
explicitly enumerate his goals at all. But he does write:
A crucial objective of the coming years is... decentralisation and dif¬
ferentiation as a means to increased local autonomy and, ultimately, as
a means to unfolding the rich potentialities of the human person. 153
The ultimate goal, “unfolding the rich potentialities of the human
person,” is just beautiful; one can hardly conceive of a more elegant plati¬
tude. But as a practical proposal it is meaningless. The intermediate goals
of “decentralisation” and “local autonomy” are not meaningless, but they
are still too vague to form the basis for an effective movement.
Chapter Three: Part IV
Naess also writes that it is “a major concern to find a kind of equilib¬
rium” between “the requirements of reduced interference with nature and
satisfaction of human vital needs.” 154 This does not even remotely approach
the degree of specificity that a goal must have in order to be practical. Naess
does slightly better when he quotes eight pairs of related goals stated by
Johan Galtung. 155 Two of the pairs are:
Clothes [:] build down international textile business [—] try to restore
patterns of local handicraft: symbiosis with food production
Transportation/communication [:] less centralised, two-way patterns,
collective means of transport [—] try to restore patterns of walking,
talking, bicycling, more car-free areas, cable TV, local media
Most of Galtung’s goals are still too vague to serve as the basis for
an effective movement, but some at least are definite enough so that indi¬
vidually they might serve as starting points from which one could try to
develop more precise goals. However, eight pairs of goals are too many;
and the achievement even of every one of Galtung’s goals would not be
anywhere near enough to solve the overall problem of technology. Thus,
Naess’s scheme violates Rule (i) as flagrantly as Glendinning’s does.
Naess is ignorant of Rule (v): He thinks “big, centralised, hierar¬
chical” social structures can be “phased out gradually.” 156 Evidently he
envisions a transformation of society that is to take at least a couple of
generations; but in that case “deep ecology” will be corrupted long before
the transformation is complete. Once “deep ecology” has been corrupted,
people in positions of power will pursue primarily their own advantage
and will use “deep ecology” concepts only as propaganda if they use them
at all. So the transformation envisioned by Naess will never be completed.
Naess’s scheme also violates Rule (ii): Even if society had somehow
been transformed in the way Naess desires, the transformation would not
be irreversible. It seems clear that Naess expects the retention of a good
deal of advanced technology, 157 and constant vigilance would be necessary
to prevent that technology from being used in ways that were inconsistent
with the kind of society that Naess proposes. In practice, such vigilance
would not be long maintained, because corruption (in our sense of the
word) inevitably would set in.
As for Rule (iii), Naess, like Glendinning, seems to think he can save
the world just by preaching, for he gives no indication of any awareness
of the need to organize the “deep ecology” movement for practical action.
We could review the work of other writers in this genre—Ivan Ilich,
Jerry Mander, Kirkpatrick Sale, Daniel Quinn, John Zerzan, the whole
useless crew—but there would be little point in doing so, because we would
only be repeating the same criticisms that we’ve directed at Glendinning
and Naess. 158 This entire body of literature suffers, by and large, from the
same faults as the work of these last two writers: Authors express their
well-grounded horror at what the technological system is doing, but the
remedies they suggest are totally unrealistic. There are many reasons why
their remedies are unrealistic; in the present chapter we’ve discussed only
those reasons related to the dynamics of social movements as reflected in our
five rules, but in Chapters One and Two, and elsewhere, 159 we’ve described
other very powerful reasons why solutions like those of Glendinning, Naess,
Illich, Mander et al can never be put into practice.
The reader may well ask whether it is possible to conceive of any
remedy at all for the problem of technology that would be consistent with
the five rules. We think it is possible. To begin, let’s follow Mao’s advice and
ask what is the principal contradiction in the situation with which we are
faced. The principal contradiction, clearly, is that between wild nature and
the technological system. This suggests that the objective chosen should be
that of “killing” the technological system as we’ve described previously. 160
In other words, revolutionaries should aim to bring about the collapse of
the system by any means necessary.
Rule (i): This objective is sufficiently clear, concrete, and simple to
form the basis for an effective movement.
Rule (v): If a revolutionary movement once grew powerful enough
to destroy the technological system in this way, it ought to be able to
accomplish the destruction in a short time. Destruction is easier by far
Rule (ii): If the system were thoroughly broken down the effect would
be—at least for a long time—irreversible, because it would take several
hundred years or more for a new technological system to develop. 161 Some
Chapter Three: Notes
people even believe that a technological system could never again be created
on Earth. 162
Rule (iv): A revolutionary movement aspiring to “kill” the techno¬
logical system would need to find away of preventing unsuitable persons
from joining the movement. Most likely the chief danger would come from
people of leftist type (as defined in ISAIF 163 ) who attach themselves to
“causes” indiscriminately. 164 A movement could probably drive such people
away by maintaining a continuous verbal and ideological attack on leftist
beliefs, goals, and ideas. 165 If that proved insufficient to repel leftists, or if
other types of undesirables (e.g., rightists) were attracted to the movement,
other means of keeping the movement “pure” would have to be found.
Rule (iii): The hard part would be the task of organizing people
for practical action. We can’t offer any formula or recipe for carrying out
this task, but those who undertake such an effort will find their road less
difficult if they apply the ideas and information provided in Chapter Four,
1. Mao, p. 112.
2. Huenefeld, p. 6.
3. “The propagandist must realize that neither rational arguments nor
catchy slogans can, by themselves, do much to influence human behavior.” NEB
(2003), Vol. 26, “Propaganda,” p. 175.
4. See Smelser, pp. 345 note 5, 356-57.
5. See NEB (2003), Vol. 16, “Collective Behavior,” p. 563. There is undoubt¬
edly a good deal of truth in what the Britannica says here about the blurring of
a movement’s goals over time. Nevertheless, the Britannicas statements are not
entirely borne out by the examples discussed in the present chapter. We may
suspect the Britannica of generalizing too broadly.
6. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “War, Theory and Conduct of,” p. 649.
7. Trotsky, Vol. Three, p. 179.
8. See Currey, p. 344; W.S. Randall, pp. 215, 250, 262.
9. E.g., McCullough, pp. 102, 163.
10. Ibid., pp. 374-381, 397-98. W.S. Randall, pp. 480-83. Chernow, pp.
227-239, 241,243-44, 261-68.
11. W.S. Randall, p. 512.
12. Ibid., p. 201.
13.1 n the early days of the Republic the members of the Electoral College
that chose the President were not necessarily elected by the people; in many states
they were appointed by the state legislatures. Ibid., p. 544. NEB (2003), Vol. 29,
“United States of America,” p. 223. And, until 1913, Senators too were appointed
by state legislatures, not elected by the people. Constitution of the United States,
Article I, Section 3; Amendment XVII. Also, see Haraszti, pp. 32-33.
14. See NEB (2003), Vol. 16, “Christianity,” pp. 258, 262 for the moral
rigorism of the earliest Christians and its gradual relaxation.
15. Exodus 22:25. The King James Version uses the term “usury”; the New
English Bible, the Revised English Bible, and the New International Version do not.
In all these versions, strictly speaking, the Bible prohibits the taking of interest
only from “poor” or “needy” people.
16. Pirenne, pp. 251-52 8c note 4. See also NEB (2003), Vol. 12, “usury,”
17. E.g., Matthew 6:19-24,19:21-24; Luke 6:20-25,12:15-21.
18. Acts 4:34-35. (Kingjames Version).
19. In the Kingjames Version, Exodus 20:13 says “Thou shalt not kill” and
Mark 10:19 makes Jesus say “Do not kill,” but Matthew 19:18 quotes Jesus as
saying, “Thou shalt do no murder.” However, in each of these three verses the
more modern translations cited in note 15, above, use the word “murder” instead
of “kill.” Jesus must at least have considered it justifiable to kill in self defense,
for when he advised his disciples to carry swords (Luke 22:36) he surely did not
mean these to serve as mere decoration. Here of course we refer to Jesus’s sayings
as reported in the Gospels, which presumably reflect what the early Christians
believed him to have said, whatever he may have said in reality.
20. See NEB (2003), Vol. 23, “Marx and Marxism,” pp. 533-34.
21. “When people speak of ideas that revolutionize society, they do but
express the fact that within the old society the elements of a new one have been
created, and that the dissolution of the old ideas keeps even pace with the disso¬
lution of the old conditions of existence.” Marx 8c Engels, Chapt. II, p. 91.
22. “Propaganda that aims to induce major changes is certain to take great
amounts of time, resources, patience, and indirection, except in times of revo¬
lutionary crisis when old beliefs have been shattered....” NEB (2003), Vol. 26,
“Propaganda,” p. 176.
23. M.F. Lee, pp. 119, 136.
24. The story is told by M.F. Lee.
25. See NEB (2003), Micropaedia articles on Anthony, Susan B.; Bajer,
Fredrik; Blatch, Harriot Eaton Stanton; Braun, Lily; Catt, Carrie Chapman;
Gage, Matilda Joslyn; Garrison, William Lloyd; Grimke, Sarah (Moore) and
Angelina (Emily); Mott, Lucretia; Phillips, Wendell; Rankin, Jeanette; Stanton,
Chapter Three: Notes
Elizabeth Cady; Stone, Lucy; Truth, Sojourner; Woodhull, Victoria. Also Vol.
9, “prostitution,” p. 737.
26. See ibid., articles on Anthony, Catt, and Gage, plus: Vol. 9, “Pankhurst,
Emmeline,” pp. 115-16; Vol. 19, “Feminism,” p. 160 (“the feminist movement...
became focused on a single issue, woman suffrage...”). It’s true that beginning in
the late 1890s “radical feminists challenged the single-minded focus on suffrage,”
ibid., p. 161, but still it seems clear that at least from about 1870 until the 1920s,
woman suff rage was overwhelmingly the dominant goal of the feminist movement
in England and America.
27. See ISAIF, paragraph 83, in Kaczynski, pp. 61-62.
28. “In connection with the Italian fascist movement, Rossi remarked that
by the beginning of 1922, the movement was sufficiently successful to provide
various advantages to members— ‘uniform, arms, expeditions, subsidies, loot,
flattery, and all the other advantages reserved to fascists.’ Such attractions pre¬
sumably would attract members on bases other than ideological commitment.”
Smelser, p. 357 note 1, quoting Rossi, p. 180.
29. Trotsky, Vol. Two, pp. 309-310.
30. Sampson, p. xxv.
31. See, e.g., Read, pp. 58-60.
32. NEB (2003), Vol. 12, “Uthmanibn Affan,” p. 219; Vol. 22, “The Islamic
World,” pp. 110-11.
33. See R. Zakaria, e.g., pp. 59, 282-83, 296.
34. La Botz, pp. 43-63, 127. See also NEB (2003), Vol. 6, “Institutional
Revolutionary Party,” p. 333; Vol. 24, “Mexico,” pp. 48-49. The revolutionary
stage of Mexico’s “revolutionary” party ended in 1940. See note 137, below.
35. Hoffer, § 116.
36. Ibid., § 7, quoting Hitler, p. 105.
37. Mao, pp. 362-63.
38. Ibid., p. 475.
39. The Economist, June 25, 2011, p. 14 (“Although the decision by these
young careerists to sign up [for Communist Party membership] shows the party’s
clout, they have very different ambitions from those of the old ideologues.”). Ibid.,
“Special Report” on China: The general impression one gets from this Special
Report is that China’s politicians are doing what politicians everywhere do—
jockeying for personal power and advantage—and that they use the old Maoist
ideology only as a tool for that purpose.
40. E.g., The Economist, April 2, 2011, p. 34, and April 23, 2011, p. 74;
Folger, p. 145.
41. W.S. Randall, p. 357.
42. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “United States of America,” pp. 216-18.
43. McCullough, pp. 504-06,536,577.
44. See NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “United States of America,” pp. 221,223-24;
McCullough, p. 398.
45. La Botz, pp. 66, 81.
46. Ibid., p. 72.
47. Ibid., p. 70.
48. Ibid., p. 81.
49. See ibid., p. 234.
50. Ibid., p. 78.
51. Ibid., p. 80. The quoted statement refers to 1995, when La Botz’s book
was published. I do not know whether Mexico subsequently resumed the con¬
struction of nuclear power-plants.
52. Ibid., p. 232.
53. The Week, March 21,2008, p. 11. See also ibid., March 13,2009, p. 16;
Caputo, pp. 62-69; Padgett 8c Grillo, pp. 30-33.
54. USA Today, Feb. 6, 2013, pp. 1A, 5A. But see ibid., Nov. 22,2013, p. 8A.
55. See NEB (2003), Vol. 19, “Feminism,” p. 160.
56. See note 26, above.
57. NEB (2003), Vol. 12, “women’s movement,” pp. 734-35; Vol. 19,
“Feminism,” pp. 161-62.
58. See both the articles cited in note 57.
59. Kee, pp. 24-25.
60. Ibid., pp. 101-09,114-121,126, 128-29,151.
61. Ibid., p. 204.
62. Ibid., p. 179.
63. Ibid., pp. 181-82.
64. Ibid., pp. 181,186.
66. Ibid., pp. 181-86.
67. Catholic Emancipation received only a “pained and angry” royal assent.
Ibid., pp. 185-86.
68. Ibid., pp. 184-85. Churchill, pp. 27-30.
69. Kee, pp. 152,193, 201, 227.
70. Ibid., pp. 193-242.
71. Ibid., p. 246.
72. Ibid., p. 257.
73. Ibid., p. 261.
74. Ibid., pp. 264-67.
75. Ibid., pp. 270, 304-05.
76. Ibid., pp. 305-06.
78. Ibid., pp. 308-310, 315-320.
Chapter Three: Notes
79. Ibid., pp. 335-340.
80. Ibid., pp. 351-564, especially p. 391.
81. See ibid., pp. 352-53.
82. Ibid., pp. 351-470, especially p. 352.
83. Ibid., pp. 548-709. Those who are familiar with Irish history may feel
that the first half of this paragraph represents a serious oversimplification, but,
assuming that Kee’s history is not misleading, and notwithstanding the expected
objections of Irish nationalists (who are not in a position to make an unbiased
judgment), I think this passage comes close enough to the truth for present pur¬
poses. I’m not writing a textbook of history. I’m using Irish history to illustrate
certain points, and to do this briefly I have to paint with a very broad brush. Similar
remarks apply to many of the other historical examples cited throughout this book.
84. Ibid., pp. 719, 726.
85. Ibid., p. 728.
86. Ibid., pp. 728 note *, 730,732-745.
87. Ibid., pp. 748-49. However, some diehards continued to maintain an
illegal organization calling itself the Irish Republican Army. Ibid.
88. Ibid., pp. 748-751.
89. The nationalists’ victory was incomplete inasmuch as the six counties
comprising Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. This fact
is not important at the present point in our discussion, but we will have occasion
to return to it further on.
90. See ibid., pp. 389-390.
91. Ibid., pp. 353-54, 368-376.
92. See ibid., pp. 750-51.
93. See ibid., pp. 732-33, 752.
94. Ibid., p. 303 (Stephens’s “political thought contained obvious traces of
revolutionary socialist thinking”); p. 334 (“a republic... which shall secure to all
the intrinsic value of their labour”); p. 751.
95. Ibid., p. 446. NEB (2003), Vol. 21, “Ireland,” p. 1004 (“cultural reviv¬
alism became an inspiration to the Irish nationalist struggle of the early decades
of the 20th century”).
96. Ibid., p. 1001.
97. Kee, p. 751.
98. See NEB (2003), Vol. 15, “Calvin and Calvinism,” p. 436; Vol. 19,
“Geneva,” p. 743; Vol. 26, “Protestantism,” p. 212, and “Rousseau,” p. 939.
99. During the 1970s the Secretary General of the Communist Party of
Spain wrote that the State that had developed in the Soviet Union was neither one
“that could be considered a workers democracy" nor “the State that Lenin imagined.”
Carrillo, pp. 201, 202. Carrillo also pointed out that, in the Soviet Union, “the
bureaucratic stratum... decides and resolves at a higher level than the working
class and even at a higher level than the party, which, as a whole, is subordinate
to the bureaucratic stratum.” Ibid., pp. 207-08. Thus, the Soviet Union was a
dictatorship neither of the proletariat nor of the party of the proletariat, but of
100. It’s not entirely clear to what extent Putin actually monopolizes power
in Russia, but, whatever the exact distribution of power may be, no one claims
thatRussiaas of2013 is a functioning democracy. See,e.g., The Economist, March
19, 2011, p. 61; April 9, 2011, p. 57; May 21, 2011, p. 60; Sept. 17, 2011, p. 49.
In 2012 there were signs of a resurgent pro-democracy movement in Russia, but
even if such a movement were successful it would be irrelevant for our purposes.
Our intention here is not to predict the political future of Russia, but only to
illustrate how democracy can be subverted even while the formal apparatus of
democracy is maintained.
101. Telia, Germani, Graciarena et al., p. 266 note 15, quoting Fluharty,
quoting in turn Garcia.
102. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “Western Africa,”p. 841.
103. Ibid., Vol. 17, “Eastern Africa,” p. 810.
104. Ibid., p. 803.
105. In Kenya, as of 2003, the president had “the power to dismiss at will
the attorney general and senior judges... [and] to detain without trial persons
who ha[d] been deemed a threat to national security.... Through the cabinet, the
president controlled] the passage of legislation....” NEB (2003), Vol. 17, “Eastern
Africa,” p. 798. A Kenyan lawyer complained, “we have to put up with dictators....”
National Geographic , Sept. 2005, p. 15. According to a United Nations expert,
“Kenyan police are a law unto themselves and often execute criminal suspects
and other individuals with impunity.... Such executions are not the work of rogue
officers but are widespread and carefully planned....” Denver Post, Feb. 26, 2009,
p. 11A. “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Kenya for rampant
graft and corruption....” USA Today, Aug. 6, 2009, p. 7A. More recently, Kenya
adopted a new constitution under which the president is less powerful. Time,
Aug. 23, 2010, p. 19. On the other hand, it is said that the Kenyan government
has been so deeply subverted by drug gangs that Kenya deserves to be called a
“narco-state.” See note 21 to Chapter Two.
106. Kee, pp. 21-27. The “Whiteboys” apparently took their name from
the white shirts they wore. Ibid., p. 24.
107. Ibid., pp. 24, 26, 27.
108. Ibid., pp. 44, 57, 68-69, 73.
109. Ibid., pp. 57, 59, 61, 68-69, 73, 126,151.
110. See ibid., pp. 101-09,114-121,128-29.
111. Trotsky, Vol. One, pp. 136-152, especially p. 152. For the role of ideas
in the French Revolution, see Haraszti, p. 22, citing opinion of M. Roustan.
Chapter Three: Notes
112. Kee, pp. 450-611.
113. Ibid., pp. 595-742.
114. NEB (2003), Vol. 20, “Germany,” pp. 89-90; Vol. 23, “Luther,” p.
310. Dorpalen, pp. 113-14, 117, 119 8c note 49.
115. Dorpalen, p. 113.
116. Ibid., pp. 114-121 8c notes 44,49. NEB (2003), Vol. 10,“Schmalkaldic
League,” p. 527; Vol. 20, “Germany,” pp. 88-90; Vol. 23, “Luther,” pp. 310-11;
Vol. 26, “Protestantism,” pp. 208-211, 213.
117. NEB (2003), Vol. 20, “Germany,” p. 83.
118. See Elias, e.g., pp. 166-171. Cf. Graham 8c Gurr, Chapt. 12, by
119. On learned helplessness see Seligman.
120. During the period studied by Selznick, Communist parties outside the
SovietUnionwere selective in recruiting members. Selznick, pp. 24,60. However,
these parties do not provide good examples for present purposes, because they
were not independent movements but tools or agencies of the Soviet Union. Ibid.,
passim, e.g., pp. 120-21,132-33,178,216,221.
121. Trotsky, Vol. Two, p. 309.
122. Mao, pp. 143-44,172, 175, 258.
123. NEB (2003), Vol. 2, “Brook Farm,” p. 549.
124. Smelser, pp. 356-57, quoting Noyes, p. 653.
125. Smelser, p. 357 note 1.
126. NEB (2003), Vol. 12,“Woodhull, Victoria,” p. 743. Buhle 8cSullivan,
pp. 36-37 (“Woodhull fled to England, married wealthily and renounced her
former radical ideas.”).
127. Our historian states explicitly that O’Connell had his later Repeal
Association firmly under his own control. Kee, p. 193. O’Connell founded the
Catholic Association (for Catholic Emancipation), and the Catholic Association
was superbly disciplined, ibid., pp. 179-186, so it is probable in view of O’Connell’s
immense prestige that he had the Catholic Association under his own control to
the extent that it is possible for one man to control an organization of that size.
129. Ibid., p. 182.
130. Ibid., p. 456.
131. See ibid., p. 450.
132. This statement slightly simplifies the actual situation. A relatively
“moderate” Sinn Fein leader like Arthur Griffith was willing at least to con¬
template conceding something to those Irishmen who wanted less than total
independence. Ibid., pp. 451, 720. But Griffith personally believed that nothing
less than total independence would be sufficient. Ibid., p. 451. Throughout Kee’s
account of the Irish War of Independence, his application of the term “moderates”
to Griffith’s faction evidently refers only to a difference of opinion within the
movement about the means by which and the time at which total independence
was to be achieved. There seems to have been general agreement within the
movement that total independence was the ultimate goal. E.g., ibid., pp. 609 (“it
was known that Sinn Fein stood for ‘total independence’”), 626.
133. Ibid., pp. 606, 608, 610, 611, 621-22, 630, 641, 647-48, 651, 652,
654, 661, 680, 711, 732, 733.
134. Ibid., pp. 606, 613-14, 641,654, 661, 662, 732.
135. See ibid., p. 730. Once hostilities against the British were suspended,
there was a split in the Irish movement owing largely to “the removal of the
need for what had often been unnatural unanimity”—unanimity enforced by the
requirement of a common front against the enemy in a shooting war.
136. NEB (2003), Vol. 6. “Institutional Revolutionary Party,” p. 333. But
the Britannka’s statement may represent an unduly generous view of the motives of
Mexico’s revolutionary leaders other than Lazaro Cardenas. Compare the detailed
account of Tannenbaum, pp. 198-224.
137. Agusti'n, pp. 7,16-19. La Botz, pp. 43-63.
138. La Botz, p. 118.
139. A few individual women have gotten rich by writing feministic books,
but they have been able to write these books independently of their member¬
ship in feminist organizations, if indeed they have been members of any such
140. Kee, pp. 726-27, 733-34.
141. Ibid, pp. 728 8c note *, 730-33, 748-49.
142. Ibid, pp. 748-751.
143. Ibid, e.g, pp. 610-12.
144. Ibid, pp. 750-51.
145. Ibid, e.g, pp. 592-93, 721, 745, 748.
146. See ibid, p. 749, and NEB (2003), Vol. 10, “Sinn Fein,” p. 837.
147. Kee, pp. 713, 747, 749, 751, 752.
148. See note 146.
149. See NEB (2003), Vol. 26, “Protestantism,” pp. 206-214.
150. See Dorpalen, pp. 108, 113, 121, 124,125 denote 65.
151. Skrbina, pp. 275-78. According to Dr. Skrbina (personal communi¬
cation to the author), Glendinning’s article originally appeared in Utne Reader,
March/April 1990.1 have not seen the original article, and am relying solely on
Dr. Skrbina’s anthology.
152. Skrbina, pp. 221-230. The “essay” is actually a section of Naess, pp.
153. Naess, p. 97. Skrbina, p. 225.
154. Naess, p. 98. Skrbina, p. 226.
Chapter Three: Notes
155. Naess, p. 99, Table 4.1. Skrbina, p. 226.
156. Naess, p. 98. Skrbina, p. 226.
157. “The objectives of the deep ecological movement do not imply any
depreciation of technology or industry... .” Naess, p. 102. Skrbina, p. 229.
158. This writer has read but little of the work of Glendinning or of Naess,
and it’s possible that elsewhere in their writings they may have remedied to some
extent the deficiencies we’ve noted here, by (for example) formulating more precise
goals or acknowledging the need for an organization oriented toward practical
action. For present purposes, however, this is not very important, because our
interest is not in Glendinning or Naess personally but in the whole genre of
literature that they represent. And the deficiencies we’ve noted in the works of
Glendinning and Naess here discussed are characteristic of the genre.
159. See, e.g., ISAIF, paragraphs 99-104,111-12, in Kaczynski, pp. 67-70,
and see ibid., pp. 308-329.
160. Kaczynski, pp. 333-34, 368-370. The system could be “killed” by
shutting down one or more of its essential functions (e.g., computer networks,
electrical power grid, or transportation and communication facilities), but the
death of the system might also be achieved in some other way.
161. See ISAIF, paragraphs 207-212, in Kaczynski, pp. 104-06.
162. This was the opinion of, for example, the late distinguished astronomer
Fred Hoyle (Hoyle, p. 62). The argument is that, due to the exhaustion of such
natural resources as readily accessible deposits of coal, oil, and high-grade metallic
ores, there could not be a new Industrial Revolution; consequently, there could
never again be a technologically advanced society. Unfortunately, I can’t agree with
this. I think it’s all too possible that a technologically advanced society might be
developed without “coal, oil, and high-grade metallic ores,” especially since there
would be a vast amount of scrap metal left over from the previous technological
society. But it’s certainly true that the development of a technologically advanced
society would be much slower and more difficult the second time around due to
the lack of coal, oil, etc.
163. ISAIF, paragraphs 6-32,213-230, in Kaczynski, pp. 39-47,106-112.
164. See Kaczynski, p. 15, and the case of Judi Bari in the discussion of
Postulate 3, above.
165. As in the pages cited in note 163, and in “The Truth About Primitive
Life” (Kaczynski, pp. 128-189) and “The System’s Neatest Trick” (ibid., pp.
Strategic Guidelines for
an Anti-Tech Movement
Force is the final arbiter, vigorous intervention is the key¬
note, and victory goes to those who have the courage and
the discipline to see things through to the end. Such a view
is characteristic of groups which seek to catapult themselves
out of obscurity into history when, as it seems to them, all
the forces of society are arrayed in opposition.
—Philip Selznick 1
1. No specific route to victory for an anti-tech movement can be laid
out in advance. The movement will have to wait for opportunities that in
due course will enable it to bring about the collapse of the technological
system. The exact nature of the opportunities and the time of their arrival
will in general be unpredictable, so the movement will have to prepare itself
for successful exploitation on short notice of any and all such opportunities.
First, the movement must build its own internal sources of power. It
will have to create a strong, cohesive organization consisting of individu¬
als who are absolutely committed to the elimination of the technological
system. Numbers will be a secondary consideration. A numerically small
organization built of high-quality personnel will be far more effective than
a much larger organization in which the majority of members are of medi¬
ocre quality. 2 The organization will have to develop its understanding of
the dynamics of social movements so that it will recognize opportunities
when they arrive and will know how to exploit them.
Second, the movement must build power in relation to its social envi¬
ronment. It must win respect for its ideas, its vigor, its effectiveness. If it
is widely feared and hated, so much the better; but it must earn for itself a
reputation as the purest and most uncompromisingly revolutionary of all
oppositional movements. Thus it will be the movement to which many
individuals will turn upon the arrival of a severe crisis in which people
have become desperate and have lost all respect for and all confidence in
the existing form of society.
Third, to help pave the way for this loss of respect and confidence,
the movement should do what it can to undermine people’s faith in the
technological system. This is likely to be the lightest of the movement’s
burdens, because much of the work will be done without any effort on the
part of the movement. For one thing, the system’s own failures will help to
undermine confidence in it. For another, the spoken and written words of
disenchanted intellectuals, especially those concerned with environmental
issues, will act (and are already acting) to break down people’s confidence
in the existing social order. Very few of these intellectuals are potential
revolutionaries, 3 therefore an anti-tech movement should not support them
directly. But the movement can promote the decline of confidence in the
existing social order by calling attention to the pervasiveness and the irre¬
mediable character of the system’s failures and by making the system look
weak or vulnerable whenever possible. 4
In this chapter we will try to fill in some of the details of the picture
that is roughly sketched in the foregoing paragraphs.
2. Revolutions almost never are successfully planned out long in
advance of their actual occurrence. This is merely one instance of the prin¬
ciple that specific historical events are, in general, unpredictable. 5 Irving
Horowitz correctly observed that revolutions are carried out either without
a previous program of action, or even in direct violation of such a program, 6
and Herbert Matthews noted that “of all the revolutionary leaders of modern
times, only Hitler outlined his program and stuck to it.” 7 Revolutionaries
have to proceed by trial and error, and by grasping (usually unforeseen)
opportunities as they arise. 8 As Lenin put it: “We often have to grope our
way along... . Who could ever make a gigantic revolution, knowing in
advance how to carry it through to the end?” 9 In January 1917, Lenin did
not believe that any kind of revolution would be possible in Russia during
his own lifetime. 10 He was able to make the Bolsheviks masters of Russia
only because he had the acumen to recognize and exploit the unexpected
opportunity presented by the February 1917 insurrection in St. Petersburg. 11
3. Major opportunities, however, may be a long time in coming; the
revolutionary movement may have to lie in wait for them. 12 This doesn’t
mean that the movement can afford to relax and take it easy. On the con¬
trary, while it is waiting the movement must remain hard at work, not
only to build its strength so that it will be able to take full advantage of
Chapter Four: Section 4
opportunities when they arrive, but also because an inactive movement will
die or shrink to an apathetic rump. If a movement’s members are not kept
occupied with purposeful work, most will lose interest and drift away. 13
Another reason why the movement must remain active is that it
is not enough for revolutionaries to wait passively for opportunities; the
opportunities may have to be created in part by the revolutionaries them¬
selves. Some serious failure of the existing social order will probably have
to occur independently of anything the revolutionaries can do, but whether
such a failure is severe enough to provide an opportunity for overthrow of
the system may depend on previous revolutionary activity. In Russia, for
example, the underlying weakness of the tsarist regime was not caused by
revolutionaries. But the opportunity for revolution was based on the regime’s
defeat in World War I, and revolutionary activity may have contributed to
that defeat, for “[i]n no other belligerent country were political conflicts
waged as intensively during the war as in Russia, preventing the effective
mobilization of the rear.” 14 Later, it was the spontaneous and unexpected
insurrection of the workers of St. Petersburg that gave the Bolsheviks their
great opportunity, and that insurrection probably would have been no more
than a disorganized and ineffective outburst of frustration if the Bolsheviks
had not previously indoctrinated the workers with Marxist ideas, 15 thus
providing them with a theory and an ideal that made it possible for their
insurrection to be purposeful, organized, and effective.
4. From section 2, above, it follows that a revolutionary movement
has to be prepared to respond successfully to the unexpected. If a program
of action is to cover any appreciable span of time, the movement must not
be committed to it in such a way that the program cannot be altered or
discarded as unforeseen developments may require. In other words, the
movement must maintain flexibility , 16
Students of military tactics and strategy have long recognized the
importance of flexibility. 17 Lenin demanded “tactical flexibility” in revolu¬
tionary work, 18 and Trotsky attributed the power of the Bolsheviks to the
fact that they had “always united revolutionary implacableness with the
greatest flexibility.” 19 Mao Zedong wrote:
[I]n the practice of... changing society, men’s original ideas, theories,
plans or programmes are seldom realized without any alteration. ...
[I]deas, theories, plans or programmes are usually altered partially
and sometimes even wholly, because of the discovery of unforeseen
circumstances in the course of practice. That is to say, it does happen
that the original ideas, theories, plans or programmes fail to cor¬
respond with reality either in whole or in part and are wholly or
partially incorrect. In many instances, failures have to be corrected
many times before errors in knowledge can be corrected and... the
anticipated results can be achieved in practice. ...
...[T]rue revolutionary leaders must not only be good at cor¬
recting their ideas, theories, plans or programmes when errors are
discovered, ... but... they must ensure that the proposed new revo¬
lutionary tasks and new working programmes correspond to the new
changes in the situation. 20
This is one way of describing the need for flexibility.
5. As argued in Chapter Three, the single ultimate goal of a rev¬
olutionary movement today must be the total collapse of the worldwide
technological system. 21 One of this writer’s correspondents has suggested
that, because of the acute physical danger and hardship to which every¬
one would be exposed following a collapse of the technological system,
a movement that takes such a collapse as its goal will be resisted by the
overwhelming majority of the world’s population and therefore will be
unable to accomplish anything.
Undoubtedly, if you held a referendum today on the question of
whether the system should be made to collapse, ninety percent, at the very
least, of the inhabitants of industrialized countries would vote “no.” Even in
a crisis situation in which people had lost all respect for and all confidence
in the system, it may well be that a majority, though a much smaller one,
would still vote against total collapse. But the assumption that this would be
a serious obstacle to revolution is based on what we may call the “ democratic
fallacy”: the notion that the number of people favoring one side or another
determines the outcome of social struggles as it determines the outcome of
democratic elections. Actually the outcome of social struggles is determined
not primarily by numbers but by the dynamics of social movements.
6. It goes without saying that the real revolutionaries—the members
of the deeply committed cadre that forms the core of the movement—will
be prepared to accept any amount of hardship and the greatest risk, or
Chapter Four: Section 7
even a certainty, of death in the service of their cause. We need only think
of the early Christian martyrs; of A1 Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic
suicide bombers; or of the assassins of the Russian Revolution. After a
Social Revolutionary named Kalyaev assassinated a Russian grand duke in
1905, the duke’s wife visited him in prison and told him: “Repent... and I
will beg the sovereign to give you your life.” Kalyaev replied: “No! I do not
repent. I must die for my deed and I will. ... My death will be more useful
to my cause than [the grand duke’s] death.” 22
Later, in 1918, when Fanny Kaplan put two bullets into Lenin, she
surely realized that she would pay with her life. 23 Similarly, when Charlotte
Corday assassinated Jean-Paul Marat during the French Revolution, she
must have known that she would face the guillotine. 24 The extreme Irish
nationalists who carried out the uprising of April 1916 certainly knew
that they were taking desperate risks, and a minority among them were
intentionally seeking martyrdom. Many of those who were subsequently
executed “expressed in their last words... confidence that their deaths were
a sort of triumph.” 25
7. But it’s not only a tiny minority of hard-core revolutionaries who
will accept suffering and the gravest risks in the service of what they regard
as critically important goals. Many ordinary people become heroes and
show astonishing courage when there is a severe disruption of their society
or an acute threat to their most cherished values, or when they are inspired
by what seems to them a noble purpose.
It has been said that “man is capable of standing superhuman suffer¬
ing if only he feels sure that there is some point and purpose to it.” 26 This
statement has been confirmed by experience, not only in the histories of
the French, Russian, and other revolutions, but in many other situations
as well. In World War II, for instance, the Russians never lost their will to
resist in the face of the death, destruction, and savage cruelties inflicted on
them by the German invaders. 27 For that matter, the morale of the German
civilian population was never broken by the horrific Allied bombing cam¬
paigns that reduced many of their cities to rubble and sometimes killed tens
of thousands of people in a single operation. 28 The Allied air-crews who
carried out bombing and other missions in disputed air-space over Europe
suffered in turn a frightful rate of attrition. For example, of the American
pilots who undertook missions over German-occupied Poland during World
War II, about three out of four were killed. 29 Yet the survivors kept flying.
Meanwhile, on the ground, many infantrymen suffered equal danger and
far greater physical hardship, but they too continued to fight. 30
Most of the civilians in the examples of the foregoing paragraph did
not suffer hardship or danger voluntarily; they showed their courage merely
by continuing to function well under the atrocious conditions imposed on
them by circumstances beyond their control. Some of the military men no
doubt volunteered for service, but probably many of these at the time they
volunteered failed to appreciate fully what they were getting into. This was
certainly the case with Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier
of World War II, who was totally naive about war when he enlisted. 31 Yet
there are abundant examples of people—not just a tiny minority of hard-core
revolutionaries, but large numbers of more-or-less ordinary people—who
in critical situations have voluntarily chosen to take desperate risks, with
what we can assume was full knowledge of what they were risking, in the
service of a cause or in fulfillment of what they believed to be their duty.
In 1922, when the Irish War of Independence had gone on long enough
so that its desperate and bloody character was unmistakable, there was
still no shortage of recruits, “new eager young warriors anxious to emulate
their elders.” 32 Nor does there seem to have been any shortage of recruits to
the French and Polish resistance movements during World War II. These
risked not only death, as the Irish did, but excruciating torture as well.
Charles de Gaulle’s personal representative with the French Resistance,
Jean Moulin, was captured and tortured to death by the Gestapo, 33 yet he
never cracked, never gave up his secrets. 34 “In 1941 Free France had sent
Captain Scamaroni to [Corsica] with a mission to prepare action there.
... Unfortunately, our valiant delegate had fallen into the hands of the
Italians... . Tortured horribly, Scamaroni had died to keep his secrets.” 35
Even for causes in which they have no personal stake, some people
will risk death, and worse. Thus thousands of non-Jewish Poles participated
in efforts to savejews from the Nazis. In helpingjews the Poles risked death
not only for themselves but for their families as well. 36 A Polish woman
named Irena Sendler, credited with helping to save 2,500 Jewish children,
“was captured by the Nazis in 1943 and tortured but refused to say who
her co-conspirators were. During one session her captors broke her feet and
legs... .” She survived only because her comrades in the Resistance bribed
a Gestapo officer to help her escape. 37
It should be noted, too, that whether they are hard-core revolution¬
aries or ordinary people, whether they assume their risks voluntarily or
Chapter Four: Section 7
involuntarily, many of those who go through extreme danger or hardship for
what they believe to be worthy purposes experience deep fulfillment from
their “heroic” activities. They may even enjoy them. A former inmate of a
German prisoner-of-war camp in World War II wrote of his unsuccessful
and eventually successful attempts to escape:
I feel I have quaffed deeply of the intoxicating cup of excitement... .
I can think of no sport that is the peer of escape, where freedom,
life, and loved ones are the prize of victory, and death the possible
though by no means inevitable price of failure. 38
As World War II drew to a close:
Apart from the Communist leaders, who aimed at a definite goal,
the resistance fighters as a whole were somewhat disoriented. As
the enemy withdrew... they had been tempted, like Goethe’s Faust,
to say to the moment, ‘Stay, you are so splendid!’... Nostalgia was
upon them. Especially since these ardent and adventurous men had
experienced, in the height of danger, the somber attractions of the
clandestine struggle, which they would not renounce. 39
Much more recently, with the arrival of peace in Northern Ireland,
the withdrawal of these same “somber attractions” seems to have had a
decidedly negative effect on the youth of that country. In 2009 a journalist
reported his conversations with a Catholic priest, Father Aidan Troy:
[T]he suicide rate among Belfast’s youth has risen sharply since the
Troubles ended, largely because, the priest believes, the sense of
camaraderie and shared struggle provided by the paramilitary groups
has been replaced by ennui and despair. ‘So many young people get
into drinking and drugs early on,’ Troy says. 40
Celia Sanchez, who had been a revolutionary guerrillera in Cuba,
reminisced in 1965 about the dangers and hardships she had gone through
with Fidel Castro’s band in the Sierra Maestra: “Ah, but those were the
best times, weren’t they? We were all so very happy then. Really. We will
never be so happy again, will we? Never... .” 41
In an otherwise rather maudlin article, an American veteran of the
Iraq war conceded that his return to civilian life had its drawbacks: “I miss
that daily sense of purpose, survive or die, that simply can’t be replicated
in everyday existence.” 42
8. The purpose of the foregoing examples is not to glorify danger,
suffering, or warfare. Their purpose is to show that people—even the
members of modern technological society, who in normal times are oriented
primarily toward security and comfort—will not necessarily choose the
easiest road, or the one that seems least dangerous in the short term, when
their society is in turmoil, when they are desperate, angry, or horrified
at the turn that events are taking, or when it no longer seems possible to
maintain their habitual pattern of living. Under such circumstances many
will choose a heroic course of action, even a course that subjects themselves
and their loved ones to the greatest risks and hardships... if only there are
leaders who can energize them, organize them, and give them a sense of
purpose. It will be the task of revolutionaries to provide that kind of lead¬
ership when the system arrives at a crisis.
At such a time, if the revolutionaries have done and continue to do
their work well, they should be able to attract wide support in spite of all the
risks and hardships that the revolutionary program entails. This is not to say
that the revolutionaries will succeed in winning the support of a majority
of the population. It’s much more likely that they will be able to organize
and lead only a fairly small minority. But “it is not always the physical
majority that is decisive; rather, it is superiority of moral force that tips the
political balance.” (Simon Bolivar). 43 In the event of a sufficiently serious
failure of the existing social order the vast majority of the population will
lose all respect for it and all confidence in it, hence will make no effective
effort to defend it. Alinsky stated the case very clearly when he wrote that
the “time is... ripe for revolution” when
masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with
past ways and values. They don’t know what will work but they do
know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and
hopeless. They won’t act for change but won’t strongly oppose those
who do. 44
Chapter Four: Section 9
Under these circumstance a great many people will have become
hopeless, apathetic, and passive, while most of the rest will be concerned
only to save their own skins and those of their loved ones. It is to be expected
that the existing power-structure will be in disarray, disoriented, and riven
by internal conflict, so that it will do a poor job of organizing and leading
any small minority that may still be motivated to defend the system. If,
therefore, the revolutionaries act effectively to inspire, organize, and lead
their own minority, they will hold the decisive share of power.
9. A failure of the existing social order may not always be needed to
provide revolutionaries with an opportunity. It’s not clear that there was
any grave failure of the social order in Ireland prior to the revolution of
1916-1922; certainly the British authorities against whom the revolution
was directed were by no means in disarray or otherwise weak. Yet the
revolution did occur. 45 Ordinarily, however, an opportunity for revolution
depends on some serious failure of the existing social order.
The Reformation was possible only because the corruption of the
Catholic Church led many people to lose their respect for it. The revolu¬
tions of the early 19th century that won independence for Spain’s American
colonies probably would not have occurred if the weakness of the Spanish
monarchy had not been demonstrated through its defeat by Napoleon
and in other ways. The Chinese revolution of 1911 was largely a result of
the repeated humiliations inflicted on China by the Western powers and
Japan, against which the Manchu (or Qing, Ch’ing) Dynasty was unable
to defend itself. The Russian revolutionaries were given their opportunity
by the ignominious military defeats of the Tsarist regime in World War
I. In Germany, the Nazis were a minor party up to the onset of the Great
Depression; Hitler was able to seize power only because the German gov¬
ernment was weak and unable to deal with the economic crisis. 46
In each of the foregoing examples there undoubtedly was a broadly
generalized loss of respect for the prevailing social order, and in the
last two cases it is probably safe to say that there was widespread anger
and desperation on the part of some people, hopelessness on the part of
others. In today’s world a prerequisite for revolution most likely will be
a situation of the latter type, involving widespread anger, desperation,
and hopelessness. Revolutionaries need to be capable of making use of
such a situation.
To illustrate with a hypothetical example, let’s suppose that in the
coming decades the replacement of human workers by increasingly advanced
technology will lead to severe, chronic unemployment throughout the tech¬
nologically developed part of the world. 47 This will not necessarily produce
a crisis serious enough to endanger the existence of the system, for people
will tend to react to chronic unemployment with apathy, passivity, and
hopelessness. There will be anger, too, which may lead to riots like those
recently seen in Spain and Greece, 48 but these poorly organized, largely
purposeless outbursts of frustration (really manifestations of hopelessness)
accomplished little or nothing.
Compare this ineffectual rioting with the “Arab Spring” revolution
in Egypt (2011), in which intelligent leadership harnessed people’s anger
and made it into a tool for the extraction of major concessions from the
power-structure. The Egyptian revolution may prove to be a failure in the
end, 49 but for present purposes that is irrelevant. The point here is simply
that skillful revolutionary leaders can harness people’s anger and frustration
and turn it to useful purposes.
Anti-tech revolutionaries, of course, can’t be satisfied with extracting
concessions from the power-structure; they have to bring it down altogether.
If, as we’ve hypothesized, there is severe, long-lasting unemployment
throughout the technologically advanced part of the world, most of those
who still have jobs will be frightened and will have lost their respect for
the system, but will be motivated only to hold on to their jobs as long
as they can. The unemployed will be either apathetic and hopeless, or
angry and desperate, or both. If there is widespread rioting it will put the
power-structure under stress, but will not seriously threaten its survival.
Well-prepared revolutionaries, however, should be capable of organization
and leadership that will put people’s anger and desperation to work, not in
mere rioting, but for purposeful action. From our present standpoint the
nature of the purposeful action can only be a matter for conjecture, but, just
to take a speculative example, the revolutionaries might extract concessions
from the power-structure as the Egyptians did, with the difference that
the concessions would have to go far enough so that they would deeply
humiliate the power-structure. This could be expected to break down the
morale of the individuals comprising the power-structure and lead to sharp
internal divisions and conflicts within the power-structure, throwing it into
disarray. Once this stage had been reached, the prospects for the overthrow
of the power-structure would be excellent.
Chapter Four: Section 10
But let’s remember that the foregoing scenario represents a purely
hypothetical route to revolution that we’ve offered only for illustrative pur¬
poses. Revolution may take a very different route in reality.
10. It is important to recognize that a successful revolutionary
movement may start out as a tiny and despised group of “crackpots” who
are taken seriously by no one but themselves. The movement may remain
insignificant and powerless for many years before it finds its opportunity
and achieves success. “Beliefs that are potentially revolutionary may exist
temporally long before strain arises to activate these beliefs as determinants
of a value-oriented movement; revolutionary organizations may lie in wait
for conditions of conduciveness, upon which they then capitalize.” 50
In 1847 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were just a couple of eccen¬
trics who prepared the Communist Manifesto for an obscure group called
the Communist League, which had only a few hundred members and soon
dissolved. 51 In Ireland, nationalist ideas were kept alive for several decades
only by a minuscule minority of extremists who had very little support
among the general population until the uprising of April 1916 reactivated
the revolutionary process. 52
Fidel Castro said, “I began a revolution with eighty-two men. If I
had to do it again, I would do it with ten or fifteen and absolute faith.” 53
Castro actually started his revolution with only about a dozen men, because
three days after he landed in Cuba with his eighty-two they were attacked
by the forces of the dictator, Batista; nearly all were killed or captured, and
no more than twelve, or possibly fifteen, 54 were left to carry on the struggle
in the Sierra Maestra. Even at its peak two years later the guerrilla band
amounted to only about 800 men, as against Batista’s army of 30,000. 55
Yet Castro won.
Such a victory of course could not be a purely military one, nor was
it achieved by Castro’s guerrilleros alone. Castro’s victory was primarily
a political one, and was possible only because the Cuban people had no
respect for or confidence in the Batista regime. The dictator was politically
incompetent and unable to retain the loyalty even of his own army, which
proved itself decidedly reluctant to fight the rebels. And Batista was really
overthrown by a coalition of forces, of which Castro’s guerrilla band was
not the only important component. What enabled Castro to prevail over
the other elements of the coalition and emerge as master of Cuba was
his skill as a politician, propagandist, and organizer. While his military
action played an indispensable role, it did so mainly through its political
and psychological effect. 56
The point to be emphasized here, though, is that when Castro, lead¬
ing his tiny band of a dozen men, looked up at the Sierra Maestra and said,
“Now Batista will be defeated!,” 57 most people would have thought him
mad. Yet Batista was indeed defeated and Castro did take control of Cuba.
In Russia at the beginning of the 20th century the revolutionaries
comprised an insignificant minority and were regarded as “cranks.” 58 The
Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, of which the Bolsheviks formed
a part, consisted of only a few hundred individuals. 59 According to Lenin:
Prior to January 22... 1905, the revolutionary party of Russia con¬
sisted of a small handful of people, and the reformists of those days...
derisively called us a ‘sect’. ... Within a few months, however, the
picture completely changed. The hundreds of revolutionary Social
Democrats ‘suddenly’ grew into thousands; the thousands became
leaders of between two and three million proletarians... . 60
The 1905 revolution was a failure, but it did help prepare the way for
the successful revolution of 1917. Up to the latter year, nevertheless, the
Bolsheviks remained weak. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, three
of the seven members of their St. Petersburg committee were police spies,
and soon afterward the Bolsheviks’ centralized organization was destroyed
by the arrest of their delegates in the Duma (the Russian parliament). 61 On
the very eve of the opening episode of the 1917 revolution the Bolshevik
leaders were scattered in exile, and no one (except possibly the police) paid
any attention to them. 62 But less than a year later they had made them¬
selves masters of the vast Russian Empire—something like one-sixth of
the world’s land surface.
The Bolsheviks had prepared themselves long in advance of the out¬
break of the revolution. They had built a cohesive cadre of professional
revolutionists who were disciplined, purposeful, strongly motivated, well
led, and reasonably unified. The Bolsheviks were effective organizers, and,
because they understood better than anyone else the dynamics of social
movements, they formulated policies that proved to be successful. Their
chief rivals, the far more numerous Social Revolutionaries, were deficient
in these qualities. 63 “[WJhereas the agitation of the Mensheviks and Social
Revolutionaries was scattered, self-contradictory and oftenest of all evasive,
Chapter Four: Section 10
the agitation of the Bolsheviks was distinguished by its concentrated and
well thought-out character.” 64 Trotsky describes how, in one county, three or
four Bolsheviks were sufficient to prevail over the much larger but relatively
timid Social Revolutionary organization. 65 “The lack of correspondence
between the technical resources of the Bolsheviks and their relative political
weight [found] its expression in the small number of members of the party
compared to the colossal growth of its influence.” 66
Meanwhile, the “bourgeois-democratic” reformists (Kerensky et al.)
were not even in the running, because they lacked unity and concentrated
purpose and seem to have had no conception of what was and what was not
possible in a time of passionate upheaval such as that which gripped Russia
in 1917. As for the defenders of the old Tsarist order, to the extent that
there were any left in Russia they were in total disarray and psychologically
defeated. Consequently, the Bolsheviks were able to overwhelm all their
adversaries and make themselves the dominant political force in Russia.
All this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Bolsheviks had the sup¬
port—much less the active support—of a majority of Russians. The support
of the peasants was shaky at best, and existed only when the Bolsheviks
were (temporarily) giving them what they wanted. 67 But once the Bolsheviks
had seized power in October 68 1917, the only organized and effective resis¬
tance to them originated outside Russia with the numerous emigres who
opposed the revolution. These assembled counterrevolutionary armies and,
supported by several foreign powers, invaded Russia with the intention of
ousting the Bolsheviks. During the ensuing Civil War of 1918-1920: “The
rate of desertions in the Red Army was unusually high: Trotsky instituted
a veritable reign of terror to prevent defections, including placing in the
rear of the troops machine-gun detachments with instructions to shoot
retreating units.” 69 But obviously the Bolsheviks couldn’t have maintained
their control over a disaffected majority without the loyal support of at least
a substantial minority; those machine-gunners wouldn’t have been willing
to shoot down their fellow soldiers on orders from Trotsky if they hadn’t
been committed to the Bolshevik cause. The Bolsheviks moreover had their
minority well organized and disciplined; 70 consequently they prevailed over
the invaders, who were not so well organized. 71
It’s important to notice that the crucial events of the Russian
Revolution took place in St. Petersburg. This was true of the spontaneous
insurrection of February 1917 and also of the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power
the following October. Thus the Bolsheviks were able to concentrate their
efforts on a single city; once they had won i n St. Petersburg the rest of the
country was relatively easy. 72 This shows how victory at the single most
critical point can provide a basis for the assumption of power throughout
an entire society—a further reason why it is possible for a numerically small
revolutionary movement to prevail.
11. To summarize, the expected pattern for a revolution against the
technological system will be something like the following:
A. A small movement, a cohesive cadre of committed, hard-core
revolutionaries, will build its internal strength by developing its own orga¬
nization and discipline. This movement should have branches in several
of the world’s most important nations or groups of nations; say, the United
States, China, Western Europe, and one or more of Russia, Latin America,
and India. In each country, the movement will prepare the way for revolu¬
tion by disseminating ideas—ideas that will be chosen for their soundness
and not for their popularity. The movement will take pains to demonstrate
the most uncompromising revolutionary integrity, and will strive to prove
itself the most effective of all the factions opposed to the existing system.
B. A large minority of the general population will recognize that
the revolutionaries’ ideas have some merit. But this minority will reject the
revolutionaries’ solutions, if only through reluctance to change familiar ways
of living or as a result of cowardice or apathy.
C. Eventually there will arrive a crisis, or a failure of the system
serious enough to enable the revolutionaries to create a crisis, in which it
will no longer be possible to carry on with familiar ways of living, and in
which the system’s ability to provide for people’s physical and psycholog¬
ical needs will be impaired to such an extent that most people will lose
all respect for and all confidence in the existing social order, while many
individuals will become desperate or angry. Their desperation and anger
will soon degenerate into despair and apathy—unless the revolutionaries
are able to step in at that point and inspire them with a sense of purpose,
organize them, and channel their fear, desperation, and anger into practical
action. Because these people will be desperate or angry and because they will
have been energized by the revolutionaries, the risk to themselves, however
great it maybe, will not deter them from striving to bring down the system.
D. Even so, the revolutionary movement will probably be able to gain
the active support only of some fairly small minority of the population. But
Chapter Four: Section 12
the great majority will be either hopeless and apathetic or else motivated
merely to save their own skins, so they will not act to defend the system.
E. The established authorities meanwhile will be disoriented, fright¬
ened, or discouraged, and therefore incapable of organizing an effective
defense. Consequently, power will be in the hands of the revolutionaries.
F. By the time revolutionaries have taken power in one nation—for
example, the United States—globalization will have proceeded even farther
than it has today, and nations will be even more interdependent than they
are now. 73 Consequently, when revolutionaries have brought the technolog¬
ical system to an abrupt halt in the United States, the economy of the entire
world will be severely disrupted and the acute crisis that results will give
the anti-tech revolutionaries of all nations the opportunity that they need.
G. It is extremely important to realize that when the moment for
decisive action arrives (as at C, above) the revolutionaries must recognize it, and
then must press forward without any hesitation, vacillation, doubts, or scruples to
the achievement of their ultimate goal. Hesitation or vacillation would throw
the movement into disarray and would confuse and discourage its members.
(We will return to this point in a moment.)
The pattern we have just outlined is a very broad and general one that
can accommodate a wide variety of routes to revolutionary success. Even so,
given the unpredictability of historical events, it is impossible to know for
certain whether the route that a revolutionary movement will actually take
will Fit within the pattern we’ve described. But the pattern is an entirely
plausible one, and it provides an answer to those who think the system is
too big and strong ever to be overthrown. Moreover, the preparatory work
that we have briefly indicated above, at A, will be appropriate for almost
any route to revolution that a movement might take in reality.
12. Let’s return to point G, above: that the revolutionaries must
avoid all hesitation or vacillation when the moment for decisive action
arrives. The leaders of the movement must be astute enough to recognize
the arrival of that moment. Trotsky claims that in a revolutionary situation
there is a particular interval of time, limited to a few weeks or at most a few
months, during which a society is primed for insurrection. Any attempt
to bring about an insurrection must be undertaken during that interval or
the opportunity will be lost. 74 So says Trotsky, and we may accept that this
is true as a general rule (though of course all such rules have exceptions).
Trotsky was speaking only of insurrections, but it should be obvious that a
similar rule applies to many other kinds of revolutionary actions: One can
hope to carry them out successfully only when circumstances are favorable
for them, and since circumstances change rapidly when a society is in crisis
one must act at the right time; to act too soon or too late will lead to failure.
Here we are concerned mainly with the right moment to begin orga¬
nizing on a mass basis for the final push toward the overthrow of the
existing social order (as at C, above), a push that may or may not involve
one or more insurrections but almost certainly will not consist merely of a
single insurrection. The critical interval of time may be difficult to identify.
“Lenin... greatly feared excessive caution, ... a letting slip of one of those
historic occasions which are decades in preparation.” 75 On the other hand,
if the revolutionaries act prematurely they may suffer a disastrous defeat.
Only an assiduous study of history and of revolutionary theory, with careful
and thoughtful observation of current events, can develop the judgment
necessary for recognition of the critical interval during which the push
toward consummation of the revolution can be successfully initiated.
But let’s assume that the revolutionaries have correctly noted the
arrival of the time to begin organizing on a mass basis for the final push.
Once that stage has been reached, certain guidelines need to be taken into
Alinsky maintains that the organizers of a mass movement must “act
in terms of specific resolutions and answers, of definiteness and certainty.
To do otherwise would be to stifle organization and action, for what the
organizer accepts as uncertainty would be seen by [the people he is organiz¬
ing] as a terrifying chaos.” 76 Trotsky warns against “indecisiveness”: “The
party of revolution dare not waver—no more than a surgeon dare who has
plunged a knife into a sick body.” 77 Here Trotsky refers to the final stage of
a revolutionary process, when the existing social order is in a state of crisis
and the revolutionaries are aiming directly at its overthrow. Throughout
this stage there is a need to maintain momentum'. Alinsky emphasizes that
a mass movement has to remain constantly in action, avoid defeats, and
keep its adversaries under unremitting pressure. 78 Trotsky says that a revo¬
lutionary process can continue only “so long as the swing of the movement
does not run into objective obstacles. When it does, there begins a reaction:
disappointments of the different layers of the revolutionary class, growth
Chapter Four: Section 12
of indifferentism and therewith a strengthening of the position of the
counter-revolutionary forces.” 79
However, the rule that momentum should be maintained is not
unqualified: Revolutionaries should not, for the sake of momentum, under¬
take a major action prematurely. In July 1917 the Bolsheviks intentionally
aborted an insurrection in St. Petersburg because theyjudged that the time
was not ripe for it. Their action temporarily checked the momentum of
the revolutionary process and led to a severe setback for the Bolsheviks,
but it averted the utterly disastrous setback that would have ensued if the
insurrection had actually been attempted. 80 Nothing in this is inconsistent
with the rule that revolutionaries must act decisively and without vacillation:
The Bolsheviks did indeed act decisively to abort an insurrection that they
had done nothing to instigate and that they knew was untimely.
Alinsky stresses the importance of avoiding moral ambiguity. The
organizers of a mass movement need to delineate issues in black and white:
Their own cause must be pure, noble, unequivocally good, while their
adversaries represent nothing but evil. 81 All of the movement’s actions are
automatically presumed to be fully justified, for any vacillation on moral
or humanitarian grounds would be as fatal as vacillation on any other
grounds. The fact that vacillation on moral or humanitarian grounds was
likely to be fatal in any life-and-death conflict 82 was understood by some
of our most admired statesmen and soldiers—those who led the Western
democracies when they were locked in struggles for survival. E.g., Lincoln
and Grant during the U.S. Civil War, or Churchill and Roosevelt during
World War II.
Similarly, it is a fatal error to delay action, or to act timidly, in order to
avoid offending people. For example: The Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks
were the two revolutionary parties derived from the split in the Russian
Social Democratic Labor Party. In the period immediately following the
St. Petersburg insurrection of February 1917, Trotsky says, “the official
Social Democratic program was still... common to the Bolsheviks and
the Mensheviks, [and] the practical tasks of the democratic revolution
looked the same on paper to both parties.” But, while the Bolsheviks
promptly undertook radical measures, the Mensheviks temporized in
order to avoid antagonizing the bourgeoisie and the liberals. 83 In general,
according to Trotsky, the behavior of the “Compromisers” ( = Menshevik
and Social Revolutionary leaders 84 ) was “evasive.” “The Compromisers
talked themselves out of difficulties; the Bolsheviks went to meet them.” 85
The Compromisers’ tactics would have been appropriate under normal
circumstances in a functioning parliamentary democracy, but in a revo¬
lutionary situation those same tactics were sure losers. So of course it was
the Bolsheviks who came out on top.
The remarks in the last four paragraphs are intended to provide
general guidelines for hard-core revolutionaries to take into consideration
in the process of acquiring and leading a mass following when the system
moves into a state of crisis; it is the volatile mass that will be incapable of
tolerating uncertainty, moral ambiguity, defeats, or periods of inactivity.
During the earlier stages of the movement’s life, while it is diligently and
patiently preparing the way for revolution, the hard-core revolutionaries,
the committed cadre, will have to be able to endure—up to a point—the
uncertainties that will inevitably arise, as well as the long periods without
spectacular activity and the tactical defeats that will occur. But once the
revolutionary process has arrived at its final stage—the time of crisis during
which the revolutionaries are pushing directly toward the overthrow of the
system—the committed cadre must strive to eliminate even within its own
ranks all uncertainties, hesitations, vacillations, doubts, and scruples. For
one thing, such internal vacillations would inevitably be communicated to
the revolutionaries’ mass following. For another, at this critical time it will
be especially important for the committed cadre to be capable of prompt,
decisive, unified action, and such action will be rendered impossible by
vacillations or disagreements within the cadre. If vacillations or disagree¬
ments are long continued, even the most deeply committed revolutionaries
may lose heart.
In practice, of course, vacillations and disagreements will probably
arise among the revolutionary leaders even during the final push toward
overthrow of the system. The revolutionaries will need to resolve these
conflicts quickly and completely, so that they can show unity in action
and provide their mass following with consistent, unambiguous, decisive
leadership. “The high temper of the Bolshevik party expressed itself not in
an absence of disagreements, waverings, and even quakings, but in the fact
that in the most difficult circumstances it gathered itself in good season by
means of inner crises, and made good its opportunity to interfere decisively
in the course of events.” 86
As always, the reader must remember that in the real world events are
unpredictable. The preceding paragraphs provide only general guidelines,
Chapter Four: Section 13
not rigid rules that can be applied mechanically. The guidelines may have
to be modified to adapt them to the concrete situations that will arise in
the practice of revolutionary politics.
13. One possible cause of hesitation on the part of revolutionaries
needs to be addressed. Some time ago this writer received a letter from an
individual who asked whether revolutionaries should strive to bring about
the collapse of the technological system even though the chaos attendant
on the collapse would entail an increased risk of nuclear war. The answer
is that revolutionaries should not be deterred by such a risk.
First, the proliferation of nuclear weapons to unstable or irresponsible
countries (e.g., Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, possibly Myanmar) contin¬
ues and is unlikely to be permanently halted. 87 Consequently, the risk of
nuclear war can only increase as long as the technological system survives,
and the sooner the system collapses the less will be the risk of nuclear war
in the long run.
Second, though many people assume that a major nuclear war would
result in the extinction of the human race and of most species of mammals,
that assumption is probably incorrect. Undoubtedly the consequences of
such a war would be horrible, but serious students of these matters do not
believe that most species of mammals would be completely wiped out or
that the human race would disappear. 88
Third, if nothing intervenes to prevent the technological system from
proceeding to its logical conclusion, there is every reason to believe that the
eventual result will be a planet uninhabitable for all of the more complex
forms of life as we know them today. See Chapter Two, Part IV. So if we
had to choose between a major nuclear war and the continued existence of
the system, we would have to take nuclear war as the lesser evil.
Fourth, if we allow the defenders of the system to deter us with the
threat of nuclear war or of any other dire consequences, then we may as well
give up. A revolutionary movement can’t be successful if it allows its pursuit
of its objective to be limited by reservations or qualifications of any kind,
for these can only lead to fatal hesitation at critical times. Revolutionaries
must take their goal to be the collapse of the system no matter what. You
have to make a decision: Is the elimination of the technological system
worth all of the desperate risks and terrifying disasters that it will entail?
If you don’t have the courage to answer “yes” to that question, then you’d
better quit whining about the evils and hardships of the modern world
and just adapt yourself to them as best you can, because nothing short of
the collapse of the system will ever get us off the road that we are on now.
14. In sections 12 and 13 we’ve offered some guidelines for revolu¬
tionary action to be taken upon the arrival of an acute crisis of the system.
Remaining to be discussed is the long preparatory period during which the
movement builds its strength for the final push toward revolution.
In a revolutionary situation—as we’ve pointed out already in section
1—victory is determined not primarily by numbers but by the dynamics
of social movements. In section 10 we’ve seen examples of numerically
tiny movements that have initiated successful revolutions. A small but
well-organized, 89 unified, and deeply committed movement will have a far
better chance of success than will a vastly larger movement that lacks these
characteristics. In other words, quality is more important than quantity. 90
Consequently, while an organization is building its strength for a future
revolution, it must strictly subordinate the goal of increasing its numbers
to that of recruiting high-quality people who are capable of total commit¬
ment to the cause. Their commitment must be exclusive; they must have
no competing loyalty to any other cause. Because the membership of the
revolutionary organization has to be limited, as far as possible, to people
of this type, selectiveness in recruitment is essential. 91
15. If the goal of revolutionaries is the complete elimination of the
technological society, then they must discard the values and the morality of
that society and replace them with new values and a new morality designed
to serve the purposes of revolution. 92 Trotsky put it this way:
Bolshevism created the type of the authentic revolutionist who
subordinates [his ideas and his moral judgments] to historic goals
irreconcilable with contemporary society... . [T]he Bolshevik party
created not only a political but a moral medium of its own, indepen¬
dent of bourgeois social opinion and implacably opposed to it. Only
this permitted the Bolsheviks to overcome the waverings in their own
ranks and reveal in action that courageous determination without
which the October [Revolution] would have been impossible. 93
Suitable recruits to the revolutionary movement will include only
those who are prepared to abandon the old values and morality and adopt
Chapter Four: Section 17
in their place the revolutionary values and morality. The revolutionary mes¬
sage needs to be addressed to and designed for, not the general public, but
the small minority of people who have the potential to become committed
members of the revolutionary organization.
16. It follows that the revolutionaries should never retreat from their
extreme positions for the sake of popularity or to avoid offending the moral
or other sensibilities of the general public. 94 If the revolutionary organization
were to dilute its message or prevaricate in order to avoid offending people
it would discourage its own members and lose their respect, weakening
their commitment to the organization; it would lose the respect of the
best kind of potential recruits while attracting many who were incapable
of total commitment to the organization; and it would lose the respect
of the general public. A revolutionary organization should seek not to be
liked, but to be respected, and it should have no aversion to being hated
and feared. Mao regarded hatred of a revolutionary organization as a sign
that it was effective. 95 It is to such an organization that many people will
turn in a time of crisis when they have lost all confidence in the existing
social order and are desperate or angry.
17. Revolutionaries will not suddenly become effective agitators, pro¬
pagandists, organizers and leaders at the moment when the system reaches
a crisis. They will need to begin developing these abilities through practical
experience long before the crisis arrives. In order to acquire such experience,
revolutionaries will have to involve themselves in political efforts that are
peripheral to the central issue of technology. For example, an anti-tech
organization might join other groups in addressing some environmental
issue of special importance—though it will be necessary for the revolution¬
aries to make very clear that the environmental issue is a sideshow and that
the long-term goal must be to eliminate the entire technological system.
In all such activities the revolutionary organization should strive
to prove itself more determined and more effective than the other groups
involved, for when a crisis arrives the organization will more readily acquire
a mass following if it has already demonstrated its superior effectiveness.
“[I]n the course of struggle... broad masses must learn from experience that
we fight better than the others, that we see more clearly than the others,
that we are more audacious and resolute.” 96
Another way revolutionaries can acquire practical experience will
be through the publication of a newspaper or journal devoted to anti-tech
work. Lenin wrote:
A paper is not merely a collective propagandist and collective agita¬
tor, it is also a collective organizer.... With the aid of, and around a
paper, there will automatically develop an organization that will be
concerned, not only with local activities, but also with regular, general
work; it will teach its members carefully to watch political events, to
estimate their importance and their influence on the various sections
of the population, and to devise suitable methods to influence these
events through the revolutionary party. The mere technical problem
of procuring a regular supply of material for the newspaper and its
regular distribution will make it necessary to create a network of
agents... who will be in close contact with each other... , 97
Nowadays, of course, a newspaper or journal will likely be published
not only in print but also on the Internet; or perhaps even on the Internet
18. In order to be effective, a revolutionary organization must be
capable of unity in action. As Fidel Castro put it: “No one can expect
anything useful from an organization comprised of anarchic men who, at
the first disagreement, seek their own road, breaking and destroying the
machine.” Consequently, Castro put great importance on discipline. 98
Stalin stressed the need for “unity of will” and “absolute and complete
unity of action on the part of all members of the Party.” He set forth an
[Unity] does not mean of course that there will never be any conflict
of opinion within the Party. On the contrary, iron discipline does not
preclude but presupposes criticism and conflicts of opinion within
the Party. Least of all does it mean that this discipline must be
‘blind’ discipline. On the contrary iron discipline does not preclude
but presupposes conscious and voluntary submission, for only con¬
scious discipline can be truly iron discipline. But after a discussion
has been closed, after criticism has run its course and a decision has
been made, unity of will and unity of action become indispensable
Chapter Four: Section 18
conditions without which Party unity and iron discipline in the Party
Needless to say, Stalin was concerned above all to maintain his own
power, and consequently he never allowed the democratic aspect of the
foregoing theory to be put into practice. But this need not prevent us from
recognizing that the theory itself—that decisions are to be arrived at with
free discussion and criticism throughout the organization, after which
all members will be expected to obey the decisions that have been made
whether or not they personally agree with them—is an excellent one for a
revolutionary organization to follow.
Nelson Mandela would have agreed with Stalin’s theory (though not,
of course, with Stalin’s practice), for he “believed passionately in democracy”
within the African National Congress, 100 yet insisted on party discipline:
Once a decision had been made by the organization, all members had to
comply with it. “Having subjugated his own will to the movement, he was
determined that others should do so too.” 101
But it has to be conceded that in practical terms the theory is not
as democratic as it sounds. First, many decisions will need to be made
quickly, with no time for discussion by the rank and file. The organization
will have to have some sort of executive body that is empowered to make
such decisions, and the rank and file will have to obey the decisions so
made. Second, even when there is sufficient time, the organization can’t
be effective if many decisions are made by a simple head-count, so many
votes on one side, so many on the other. However offensive it may be to our
democratic sensibilities, the plain truth is that some individuals will have
vastly more knowledge and experience relevant to the functioning of the
organization than others will. Every member of the organization should be
listened to, but the main responsibility for decision-making will have to rest
with a relatively small group of leaders 102 comprising those members who
are best informed and have the highest level of political and organizational
skill. Thus, an effective revolutionary organization will require a significant
measure of hierarchy and discipline.
The so-called “democratic” countries in today’s world are in reality
governed by political parties. In even the most democratic of these parties,
decisions are made primarily by a limited inner circle of leaders 103 who pay
only as much attention as they think expedient to the opinions of the rank
and file. A close approximation to true democracy can exist only in societies
organized on a very small scale, such as the nomadic bands of African
pygmies. 104 In any modern, large-scale society, a political organization that
attempts to maintain a truly democratic internal structure will condemn
itself to impotence.
19. Recognition of the importance of unity might lead to an erro¬
neous conclusion, namely, that a revolutionary organization should never
split when there are disagreements over principles, strategy, or tactics. Of
course, a faction shouldn’t split from its parent organization for slight rea¬
sons or while there is a good prospect of resolving disagreements through
discussion, or when there is an acute, immediate need to present a united
front against adversaries. But an organization cannot be trulyunified when
there is within it a persistent, irreconcilable disagreement over a ques¬
tion of far-reaching importance. If such a disagreement develops among
the members of a revolutionary organization, and if there is no apparent
likelihood of resolving the disagreement within a reasonable time, it will
usually be best if the dissident minority separates itself from the parent
group. This will leave the parent group and the minority each with its
own independent unity. If the minority is wrong it presumably will remain
weak, while the parent group leads the revolution. On the other hand, if
the minority’s view is proven right through practice, then the minority can
be expected to assume leadership when the time is ripe and leave its parent
organization in the dust.
Lenin said, “We must not be afraid to be a minority,” 105 and he never
hesitated to act accordingly when he was sure he was right. Trotsky makes
clear that Lenin always insisted on pursuing his own line no matter what
the rest of the Bolsheviks thought. Lenin preferred to be a member of a
small minority that was right rather than compromise his views in order to
get broader support. 106 Thus he and his Bolsheviks, though they constituted
a minority within the Social Democratic Party, split from their rivals, the
Mensheviks (effectively in 1903, formally in 1912) and took their own
road. 107 Because their road turned out to be the right one, they eventually
prevailed over the Mensheviks.
Again, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Lenin adopted and
maintained an anti-war position and even advocated “transforming the
imperialist war into civil war,” despite the fact that he was supported in
this only by his “closest comrades,” who comprised “a minority within the
group of anti-war Socialists, who, in turn, constituted a small minority
Chapter Four: Section 20
of the international Socialist movement... .” 108 Lenin and his minority
prevailed in the end because their judgment of the political situation had
been better than that of other socialists.
When Lenin announced his “April Theses” in the spring of 1917
these were met with hostility by the other Bolshevik leaders, who thought
he was “temporarily disorientated.” 109 Lenin persisted, however, and in this
case he did succeed after several weeks in bringing the rest of the party
over to his view. 110 Much the same thing happened in October of that year
when, at first against the opposition of the majority of the Bolshevik leaders
but eventually with success, Lenin advocated the insurrection that put the
Bolsheviks in control of Russia. 111
Lenin won out in these conflicts only because his political judgment
was better than that of his opponents. If his opponents had advocated more
effective policies, they would have prevailed in the end and Lenin would
have sunk into obscurity.
Lenin of course was a political genius, so he could afford to be con¬
fident to the point of arrogance in his political judgments. Those of us
who are not equally gifted should be more cautious about risking a split
in a revolutionary movement. Nevertheless, when it has become clear that
there are deep and irreconcilable disagreements between different factions,
it will generally be advisable for a movement to split.
20. A revolutionary movement needs to be self-confident. Alinsky,
in explaining the techniques he had used throughout his long and success¬
ful career as a social and political activist, emphasized that a community
organizer had to have confidence in himself 12 and had to instill confidence
in the people he was organizing. As long as people lacked confidence in
their own power to bring about great changes they remained passive and
apathetic, but once they were imbued with a sense of their own power
they could become energetic, active, and effective. 113 Trotsky noted the
significance of the fact that the Bolsheviks “believed in their own truth and
their victory.” 114 The international communist movement—successor to the
Bolsheviks—placed importance on “belief in the triumph of our
When Fidel Castro claimed that he could start a revolution with
ten or fifteen men (see above, section 10), he added an important condi¬
tion: His men had to have “absolute faith,” presumably meaning absolute
faith in their own eventual victory. The term “absolute faith” must be
taken with a grain of salt. Given Marxism’s claim to be “scientific” and the
enormous prestige of science, it’s not surprising that many Marxists of the
19th and the early 20th century had absolute faith in the eventual victory
of the proletarian revolution. But nowadays well-informed people are more
sophisticated, more skeptical. If you try to tell them that your movement
is absolutely certain to achieve victory, you will attract only those who are
either thoroughly irrational or extraordinarily naive.
Castro, however, in speaking of “absolute faith,” may have been refer¬
ring not to a literal belief in the certainty of victory but to a psychological
state: to buoyant self-confidence and a subjective sense of power—qualities
that encourage people to exert themselves to the limit, to recover from
repeated defeats, and to persist in the face of difficulties that less inspired
individuals would see as insurmountable. This psychological state does not
require an absolute certainty of success, but it does at least require a belief
that one will have an excellent chance of success if only one works hard
enough and long enough and shows sufficient energy, courage, willpower,
skill, and determination.
Such a belief can be rationally sustained. Self-confidence tends to be
self-justifying, in the sense that confidence that one can succeed tends to
lead to actual success. A chief determinant, if not the chief determinant, of
success for a revolutionary movement is its faith in itself. Faith leads to deep
commitment; it inspires heroic efforts and persistence in the face of over¬
whelming difficulties. Given such faith and commitment, a movement may
achieve things that no one thought possible. Above, section 10, we’ve given
examples of tiny groups of seeming “cranks” who initiated successful revolu¬
tions against what appeared at the outset to be impossible odds. Numerous
examples can be cited—we will cite some in a moment—of groups that
eventually achieved victory only because they had the self-confidence to
persist in the face of defeat and even when their situation seemed hopeless.
Conversely, when people lack confidence in their power to achieve
things they will not in fact achieve anything difficult, because no one will
exert himself to the limit when he has little hope that his efforts will be
rewarded with any impressive result. For the same reason it is a serious
mistake to set modest goals for a revolutionary movement on the ground
that such goals are “realistic.” Only a truly world-transforming goal can
inspire people to accept hardship, risk, and sacrifice, and to put forth the
extreme effort that will be necessary for the success of any real revolutionary
movement in the world today. 116
Chapter Four: Section 21
It follows that the goal a revolutionary movement sets itself must be
nothing less than the total collapse of the technological system. The move¬
ment moreover must consistently insist that its chances of achieving that
goal will be excellent if its members show a sufficient level of commitment,
energy, courage, willpower, skill, and persistence.
21. An important note of clarification: The rule that a revolutionary
movement should be self-confident refers to confidence in its ability to reach
its ultimate goal—that of consummating the revolution. Overconfidence
in carrying out particular projects or operations must be carefully guarded
against, because overconfidence leads to carelessness and carelessness leads
to failure. That’s why Lenin habitually exaggerated the potential risks
involved in any action and worked out his plans with meticulous care. 117
As Trotsky said, “one must be prudent to win the right to be bold.” 118
Prudence demands that one take care not to underestimate one’s
adversary. Underestimation of the adversary leads to overconfidence, thence
to carelessness and defeat. In general, it is safer to overestimate one’s adver¬
sary. Such was the policy of Lenin. 119 Mao emphasized that while one must
have confidence in one’s ability to defeat the enemy in the long run, one
must never slacken one’s efforts through overconfidence during the actual
process of struggle:
Comrade Mao Tsetung has repeatedly pointed out: strategically, with
regard to the whole, revolutionaries must despise the enemy, dare
to struggle against him and dare to seize victory; at the same time,
tactically, with regard to each part, each specific struggle, they must
take the enemy seriously, be prudent, carefully study and perfect the
art of struggle... , 120
In line with this, it should be understood that the rule that a rev¬
olutionary movement must have an ambitious, world-transforming goal
refers only to the movement’s ultimate goal. The movement’s subsidiary
goals—the goals that are steps on the way to the ultimate goal—should be
prudently and carefully selected. Mao advised, “fight no battle you are not
sure of winning.” 121 Mao apparently was thinking primarily of a military
situation, but whether in a military or in any other situation, his advice
would be impractical if taken in a strictly literal sense. Seldom can one
be really sure of success in any enterprise. However, in contemplating any
project or action, revolutionaries should cautiously balance the advantages
to be gained through success against the risk of defeat. Trotsky pointed out:
“Every defeat... changes [the correlation of forces],.. to the disadvantage of
the vanquished, for the victor gains in self-confidence and the vanquished
loses faith in himself.” 122
The hard core of a revolutionary movement needs to have the confi¬
dence, the commitment, and the psychological toughness to recover from
repeated defeats and carry on in spite of them. But even the most deeply
committed revolutionaries are, after all, human, and may be weakened by
defeats or failures. Therefore one should risk a defeat or a failure only when
there is a strong reason for doing so.
22. The negative effect of defeats will be mitigated if revolutionaries
understand that, following a crushing defeat that seems to leave a group in
a hopeless situation, a determined renewal of effort by whatever is left of
the group very often leads to victory.
In a surprise attack at midwinter, 877-78, Danish Vikings seized
control ofWessex, the country of the West Saxons. Believing that resistance
was futile, the Saxons submitted to the invaders, but their king, Alfred,
escaped with a few followers to the woods and moors of Somerset, and by
Easter 878 he had established himself in a fort on an island in the Somerset
marshes. At some point, either before or after he reached the marshes,
Alfred collected a small army, and from the fort his men harassed the
Danes with guerrilla attacks. About the middle of May Alfred summoned
Saxon warriors from neighboring parts ofWessex and marched with them
against the Danes, whom he defeated decisively at the Battle of Edington. 123
Alfred’s “memory lived on through the Middle Ages and in legend as that
of a king who won victory in apparently hopeless circumstances.” 124
Even more impressive is the case of Robert Bruce. 125 Toward the
end of the 13th century, Edward I of England occupied Scotland and
made it into something like an English colony. The Scots were restive
under English rule, and in 1306 Robert Bruce, whose ancestry gave him a
claim to the kingship, had himself inaugurated as King of Scotland. But
within three months he was defeated in battle by the forces of Edward
I and became a hunted fugitive, forced at times to survive under condi¬
tions of the greatest hardship. 126 At this stage his cause seemed hopeless.
He had hardly any money or troops, 127 and the weakness of his position
Chapter Four: Section 22
was “almost ludicrous.” 128 Nevertheless, over the succeeding years Bruce
waged a savage guerrilla campaign, gradually increasing the territory he
controlled and the number of his followers until, in 1314, he defeated the
English decisively at the Battle of Bannockburn. After that he reigned in
effect as King of Scotland, though he did not secure English recognition
of Scotland’s independence until 1328. Bruce’s rise from a hunted fugitive
to ruler of an independent kingdom is seen by some as incredible, 129 but
it does not look incredible to those who have noticed how often in history
seemingly lost causes have eventually triumphed.
In the autumn of 1878, the Social Democratic movement in Germany
was very nearly destroyed by the Socialist Law of October 19 of that year,
which was enforced with extreme severity and had the effect of abolishing
any “societies with ‘social-democratic, socialistic, or communist’ tenden¬
cies.” 130 *^ their foes were encouraged, many of the Social Democrats lost
heart. ... [T]he movement nearly disintegrated completely.” 131 But within
a year some of the tougher and more persistent Social Democrats were
publishing a paper in Switzerland and devising ways of smuggling it into
Germany. 132 Meanwhile, other members of the movement developed legal
and illegal subterfuges that enabled them to circumvent the Socialist Law
and build a new organization for the party, 133 so that by the autumn of
1884 German Social Democracy was stronger than ever 134 —even though
it was still illegal.
According to Mao, “in 1931... some comrades became proud and
overweening. The result was [a],.. serious error in the political line, which
cost us about 90 percent of the revolutionary forces that we had built up
with so much toil.” 135 An editors’ note explains:
The erroneous ‘Left’ line dominated the Party for a particularly long
time (four years) and brought extremely heavy losses, with disastrous
consequences, to the Party and the revolution. A loss of 90 percent
was inflicted on the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese Red
Army and its base areas... , 136
But the Communists persisted in their efforts, rebounded from their
defeats and, as we know, by 1949 had made themselves masters of China.
In South Africa during the early 1970s the ANC (African National
Congress) seemed thoroughly defeated and almost defunct. 137 But what
was left of the organization continued the struggle, with the result that
the ANC eventually recovered its strength and made itself the dominant
political force in South Africa. Today (2013) the ANC is the ruling party
of that country.
The Bolsheviks repeatedly recovered from severe defeats. When the
Social Democrats of Russia (who included the Bolsheviks 138 ) “helped to
rouse antigovernment demonstrations” in 1905, their insurrection failed,
and “they were arrested, imprisoned, or exiled.” 139 To one who lived through
those days it seemed that “[t]he revolution was dying. ... Darkness and
despair had set in [among the intelligentsia],” 140 “But Lenin did not despair
of success. ... For him there were lessons to be learned, new plans to be
worked out, alternate methods of revolution to be considered.” 141
Again in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, “the revolutionary
movement died down. ... The revolutionary ideas were barely kept glowing
in small and hushed circles. In the factories in those days nobody dared to
call himself‘Bolshevik’ for fear not only of arrest, but of a beating from the
backward workers.” 142 As we mentioned earlier (section 10), the Bolsheviks’
centralized organization was destroyed at this time through the arrest of
their delegates in the Duma. Nevertheless the Bolsheviks persisted, and
following the February 1917 insurrection and the implementation of Lenin’s
“April Theses” they made themselves into an important force in the Russian
However, as a result of the “July Days” (the abortive insurrection of
July 1917; 143 see section 12, above) the Bolsheviks again suffered a severe
setback, 144 one that would have been fatal to a less determined group.
‘After the July Days,’ writes V. Yakovleva, at that time a member of
the Central Committee..., ‘all reports from the localities described
with one voice not only a sharp decline in the mood of the masses,
but even a definite hostility to our party. In a good number of cases
our speakers were beaten up. The membership fell off rapidly, and
several organizations... even ceased to exist entirely.’... The efflux
from the party in some cases reached such a scale that only after a
new registration of members could the organization begin to live a
proper life. 145
We’ve emphasized that any major defeat is dangerous. But if a rev¬
olutionary organization has a hard core that is absolutely committed and
determined, the organization in some cases may actually be strengthened
Chapter Four: Section 22
by a defeat because its weaker members are weeded out: If they don’t leave
the organization, they at least reveal themselves by their wavering during
the period of failures and difficulties. Thus the hard core is consolidated,
because its members are clearly distinguished from the weaker members of
the organization. Trotsky notes in reference to the July Days:
This sharp turn in the mood of the masses produced an automatic,
and moreover an unerring, selection within the cadres of the party.
Those [Bolsheviks] who did not tremble in those days could be relied
on absolutely in what was to come. They constituted a nucleus in the
shops, in the factories, in the districts. On the eve of [the Bolshevik
seizure of power in October 1917], in making appointments and allot¬
ting tasks, the organizers would glance round many a time calling to
mind who bore himself how in the July Days. 146
In this way the Bolsheviks drew an advantage from their July defeat
when the time came for them to take control of Russia. But just a few
months after their seizure of power they again came close to total defeat
with the invasion of the “White” counterrevolutionaries and their Western
[T]he Bolsheviks were about to fall. It seemed a matter of days. Ruin
surrounded them, from the Pacific and all across Siberia and the
Urals, their power had collapsed. The Germans were in charge in the
Ukraine, where a voluntary army was forming against the Bolsheviks,
and the English were landing in the north. As was famine. 147
In these circumstances, nothing but the unbreakable determination of
the hard core of the Bolshevik Party enabled it to survive. But it did survive,
and it retained its iron grip on Russia for more than sixty years thereafter.
This ability to bounce back from severe defeats is a trait that seems
characteristic of successful revolutionary leaders. The trait is delineated
with particular clarity in the case of Fidel Castro. Matthews emphasizes
“Fidel’s incorrigible optimism and fighting spirit” 148 :
‘The most important feature of Fidel’s character,’ his brother
Raul said to me..., ‘is that he will not accept defeat.’
Every phase of his life, from childhood to the present, proves
this point. ... Fidel never gave up; he never lost heart; he seems
immune to discouragement and dismay. 149
Fidel Castro was like Lenin in having the gift of inspiring all those
around him by his faith in himself and in what he was doing. ... [I]t
showed up best in the worst and apparently most hopeless periods. 150
23. In these pages we may seem to be making heroes of such men
as Robert Bruce, Lenin, Mao, Castro, the extreme Irish nationalists, and
so forth. Certainly the deeds of all these people were of heroic magnitude.
But this doesn’t mean that we should admire them as human beings, still
less that we should respect their goals or their values. The Bolshevik/
Communist leaders were committed technophiles, 151 and therefore the
adversaries of those of us who believe that modern technology is pushing
the world toward disaster. Robert Bruce may (or may not) have made some
pretense of patriotic motives, 152 but in all probability his real motive was
personal ambition 153 —he wanted to be king of Scotland—and in the service
of that ambition he inflicted terrible cruelties not only on the English but
even on some of his fellow Scotsmen. 154 In the twentieth century, as we
pointed out in Chapter Three, there was no reason why Ireland needed
to become independent of Britain. 155 It was solely in order to satisfy their
own psychological needs that the Irish nationalists provoked the war of
independence that brought suffering and death to so many of their coun¬
trymen, and the Irish are no better off today than they would have been if
Ireland had remained part of the United Kingdom.
Here we’ve taken notice of some of the revolutionaries of the past only
because we can learn something from their experience and their methods.
If we’ve cited Communist leaders more often than others, we’ve done so
notfrom any sympathy for Communism but only because the Communists,
by and large, have been the most effective and successful revolutionaries
of the 20th century.
24. Professional propagandists know that people usually accept only
those new ideas that they are already predisposed to accept. 156 A revolution¬
ary movement should try to identify the sectors of the population whose
members are most likely to be predisposed to accept the revolutionary mes¬
sage, and should give special attention to those sectors in propagating its
Chapter Four: Section 25
ideas and in its efforts at recruitment. Nevertheless, anti-tech ideas should
be made known not only to the predisposed sectors but to the population at
large. The rule that only predisposed people accept new ideas is not neces¬
sarily applicable “in times of revolutionary crisis when old beliefs have been
shattered.” 157 Thus, as we pointed out in section 8, when a severe crisis of
the system arrives the revolutionary movement will have its opportunity to
acquire a mass following; but a mass following will be more easily acquired
if most people already have at least some superficial acquaintance with
anti-tech ideas. Moreover, even long before the arrival of a crisis and even
in sectors where the revolutionaries cannot hope to win any active support,
their message can promote discontent and disillusionment and thus help to
set the stage for the arrival of the crisis. See in this chapter section 1, third
point, and Alinsky as quoted in section 8.
25. A revolutionary movement must maintain clear lines of demar¬
cation that separate it from other radical groups holding ideologies that to
some extent resemble its own. 158 This is a corollary to the need for unity that
we stressed in section 17: A social or political movement can’t be unified if
it has many members whose loyalty is divided between their own movement
and some other. Moreover, a movement needs to have a clear and unmistak¬
able identity of its own; this is necessary not only for the internal cohesion
of the movement itself, but also so that outsiders will easily recognize the
movement and will respect it (see section 1, second point, and section 16).
In addition, the movement needs to keep itself strictly independent of all
other groups. Dependence upon or too close a linkage with another group
will prevent a revolutionary organization from acting in the interest of its
own goals when these conflict with the goals of the other group.
One movement from which an anti-tech organization needs to sep¬
arate itself definitively is that of the radical environmentalists; another is
anarchoprimitivism. Most radical environmentalists do not contemplate the
elimination of the entire technological system. An anti-tech organization
can’t afford to have members who are not sure they really want to eliminate
modern technology, nor can it afford to be linked with a movement that
holds an ambivalent position respecting technology. The anarchoprimitiv-
ists do want to eliminate modern technology, but other goals are at least
equally important to them: gender equality, gay rights, animal liberation,
etc.—the whole catalog of leftist issues. 159 Elsewhere we’ve explained why
an anti-tech movement must emphatically distance itself from leftism. 160
26. In its relations with rival radical groups, a revolutionary orga¬
nization should avoid getting entangled in sterile, interminable wrangles
over ideology. Such wrangles have been prevalent, for example, in anarchist
circles. Some anarchists seem to spend most of their time and energy on
theoretical squabbles with other anarchists and very little on efforts to bring
about the social changes that they advocate. Neither side in these disputes
ever succeeds in persuading the other, and no one but the participants has
any interest in the arguments offered.
Seldom indeed will you succeed in persuading your opponents in an
ideological dispute. Therefore, in any such dispute, your arguments should
be designed not to persuade your opponents but to influence undecided
third parties who may hear or read the arguments. For this purpose you
should state your case concisely, as clearly and convincingly as possible, and
in a way that will make it interesting to third parties. Then do what you can
to ensure that your arguments are widely heard or read. Address only the
most important points and leave out the minor ones, for third parties will
be interested only in the main lines of the arguments. Squabbles over arcane
technical points are worse than a waste of time because third parties, if they
read them at all, will probably view them with disdain and may compare
you to the medieval theologians who quarreled over the number of angels
that could dance on the point of a pin. Similar principles apply to debates
with the defenders of the existing system, and with those who don’t defend
the system as it now exists but think it can be reformed.
When one is confronted with arguments that attack one’s ideas or
one’s group one is strongly tempted to answer them, and the more unrea¬
sonable the arguments are, the stronger is the temptation to answer them.
But before one gives in to this temptation one should ask what advantages,
if any, one’s answer can win for the revolutionary organization, and one
should consider whether there are other ways of spending one’s time and
energy that will be more useful for revolutionary purposes than an answer
to the offensive arguments would be.
The way to prevail over rival radical groups is not to argue with them
but to outflank them: Focus on recruiting to your organization any suitable
persons who are predisposed to reject modern technology but are undecided
among the various factions. Show that your organization is more active
and effective than other radical groups. This will bring more people over
to your viewpoint than any amount of argument will do.
Chapter Four: Section 27
27. “[T]he most precious of all revolutionary qualities, loyalty, has its
inevitable counterpart in treachery.” 161 Members of any radical organization
need to bear in mind at all times the likelihood that their group includes
informers who will report their activities to law-enforcement or intelligence
agencies, and they should remember that even individuals who are currently
loyal may turn traitor at some later date.
From 1967 until the early 1970s the FBI implemented a program
known as COINTELPRO that involved, among other things, the sys¬
tematic infiltration of informers into groups that the FBI found politically
objectionable. 162 COINTELPRO under that name has long since been
discontinued but, needless to say, the FBI still uses similar methods today.
In 2006, members of a group of eco-saboteurs were arrested with the help
of an FBI informer who had infiltrated radical-environmentalist circles. 163
At about the same time, in a related operation, the FBI arrested the group
that had been responsible for the spectacular eco-arson at Vail, Colorado in
1998. One of the group’s members had turned traitor and helped the FBI
to collect evidence; some of the others subsequently testified against their
comrades in order to get shorter sentences for themselves. 164
In South Africa the police used spies and informers with devas¬
tating effect against anti-apartheid activists, and some of the activists,
when subjected to interrogation, gave information that helped the police
to arrest their colleagues. 165 In Ireland, revolutionary groups were regu¬
larly infiltrated by government informers (though by 1919, under Michael
Collins, the revolutionaries had turned the tables and developed a much
better intelligence network than that of the government). 166 Fidel Castro’s
guerrilleros felt it necessary to execute many traitors whom they discov¬
ered in their ranks. 167 Of the members of Che Guevara’s guerrilla band in
Bolivia, some who were captured gave the authorities information about
the members who were still free. 168 During the period in which the Social
Democrats of Germany were outlawed (1878-1890), they established an
“intelligence system” for the purpose of “sifting and analyzing raw infor¬
mation to uncover informers and agents provocateurs],” 169 but this did not
entirely protect them against infiltration by police agents. 170 Even one of
the delegates to the Social Democrats’ secret congress at Wyden Castle in
Switzerland (August 1880) was “in the pay of the Berlin Police President.” 171
In Russia, the Social Revolutionaries’ “Combat Organization” was headed
for a time by a police agent. 172 According to Trotsky, as noted in section
10, above, three of the seven members of the Bolsheviks’ St. Petersburg
committee in 1914 were police agents. 173 A prominent Bolshevik named
Malinovsky, who was the party’s spokesman in the Duma and played a
critical role in the founding of Pravda, later turned out to be a police agent.
Even after it should have been evident that Malinovsky was a spy, Lenin
refused to believe it. 174
The pattern is consistent and the lesson is clear: A radical group
can never safely assume that its plans or its activities are unknown to the
government. Thus, a legal revolutionary organization is well advised to
remain exactly that: strictly legal. 175 Any sort of dabbling in illegal activities
is extremely dangerous.
28. It is important to study the history and the methods of earlier
social and political movements and the techniques developed by successful
leaders of such movements. It is a serious mistake to reject out of hand the
techniques and the theories of revolutionaries or activists of the past merely
because their goals were incompatible with anti-tech goals or because they
were leftists or reformists. It’s true that many of their methods must be
rejected as unsuitable for use by an anti-tech organization today, and of
their other methods many must be modified to adapt them to such use.
Neither history nor the principles laid down by past leaders will provide
formulas or recipes for success that can be applied in cookbook fashion. But
they provide ideas, of which some may lead to methods that are suitable for
anti-tech use while others may call our attention to dangers or stumbling-
blocks that we need to avoid.
Mao emphasized not only the importance of learning from the expe¬
rience of the past as recorded in history, but also that theories derived from
past experience were often incomplete and needed to be corrected through
further experience. Similarly, principles of action found to be valid in other
contexts might not be applicable to the concrete situations arising in the
development of a given revolution. Consequently, from among such prin¬
ciples revolutionaries needed to sort out what was useful for their purposes
from what was useless, discard the useless, and modify the useful to adapt
it to their own needs. 176
It takes hard work to study the history and the methods of past
movements and to sort out the useful from the useless. But if you fail to
learn from the past then you condemn yourself to learning everything all
over again, by trial and error. This is a slow, halting, and difficult process.
A good deal of trial and error will be necessary anyway, but the number of
Chapter Four: Section 29
trials needed and the number of errors committed will be greatly reduced
if you put out the effort demanded by a careful study of earlier movements
and their methods. A refusal to make this effort will seriously diminish
your chances of success.
This writer has had no opportunity to study more than a few of the
works of history, political science, sociology, and revolutionary theory that
may be relevant to the anti-tech enterprise. Worthy of careful attention are
the works of Alinsky, Selznick, Smelser, and Trotsky that appear in our
List of Works Cited. But there is a vast amount of other relevant literature
that deserves to be explored; for example, the literature of the academic
field known as “Organizational Behavior,” and the works of Lenin to the
extent that they deal with revolutionary strategy and tactics (his ideological
hokum is merely of historical interest). Thorough library research will reveal
an unending series of other relevant works. It is worth repeating that this
literature will provide no recipes for action that can be applied mechan¬
ically. It will provide ideas, some of which can be applied, with suitable
modifications, to the purposes of an anti-tech organization.
29. Let’s illustrate the foregoing with a concrete example. Selznick
explains how Communists operating in countries outside the socialist bloc
would infiltrate non-Communist organizations, find their way into key
positions within such organizations, and use those positions to influence
the activity of the organizations in question. In some cases the organizations
were taken over completely and made into appendages of the Communist
Party. The Communists did not find it necessary to place large numbers
of their people in the organizations that they sought to influence or con¬
trol; a relatively small number of individuals, strategically placed and well
organized, could exercise great power. 177
For an anti-tech movement today there can be no question of simply
copying Communist tactics. But careful study of a book like Selznick’s can
lead to ideas such as the following ones:
An anti-tech organization will have some degree of affinity with
radical environmentalism. Many people tend to associate the term “rad¬
ical environmentalist” only with illegal groups like Earth Liberation
Front (ELF), but here we apply the term to any individual or group advo¬
cating environmental solutions that are too radical to have any chance
of acceptance by the mainstream in modern society. For example, Bill
McKibben—author of Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age —is a
radical environmentalist by our definition, though as far as we know his
work has always been entirely legal. Since we’ve already emphasized that
a revolutionary organization committed to open, political action should
maintain strict legality (section 27), it follows that the members of such
an organization should avoid any involvement in illegal actions by radical
environmentalists. But this need not prevent anti-tech revolutionaries from
participating in the legal activities of radical environmentalist groups and
seeking positions of power and influence within such groups. This power
and influence could be used to the advantage of an anti-tech organization
in various ways. For example:
(i) The anti-tech organization may be able to find suitable recruits
for itself among the members of radical environmentalist groups.
(ii) If a member of the anti-tech organization can find a place on the
editorial board of a radical environmentalist periodical (for instance, the
Earth First!Journal), he will be able to influence the content of the period¬
ical. If a majority of anti-tech people can be placed on the editorial board,
they will be able in effect to take the periodical over, minimize its leftist
content, and use it systematically for the propagation of anti-tech ideas.
(iii) If an anti-tech organization decides to undertake action on an
environmental issue as suggested in section 17 of this chapter, and if it has
power and influence within radical environmentalist groups, then it should
be able to secure support and cooperation from these groups in carrying
out the action in question.
(iv) In some cases the anti-tech revolutionaries may be able to take
over a radical environmentalist group altogether and turn it into an anti¬
tech group. Under these circumstances leftists can be expected to drift away
from the group, and in their place the group will attract recruits who are
predisposed to anti-tech.
(v) Work in radical environmentalist groups will provide anti-tech
revolutionaries with valuable training and experience in leadership and
organizational work. 178
(vi) When an acute crisis of the system arrives, the power and influ¬
ence that anti-tech revolutionaries wield within radical environmentalist
groups will be useful in the effort to organize on a mass basis.
None of this is inconsistent with the rule that the anti-tech movement
must maintain clear lines of demarcation between itself and other radical
movements. Lenin’s emphasis on such lines of demarcation did not prevent
him from collaborating—when he found it useful—with leaders of groups
Chapter Four: Section 29
whose programs were in conflict with that of his own group. 179 Of course,
members of the anti-tech organization who are asked to work within radical
environmentalist groups will have to be clearly aware of the importance of
the lines of demarcation. They will need to understand that their purpose
in working with radical environmentalists is solely to win advantages for
anti-tech and not to promote any radical environmentalist goals that may
be inconsistent with anti-tech goals.
How can anti-tech revolutionaries get themselves into positions of
power and influence in radical environmentalist groups? The most import¬
ant way will be through
the moral authority of hard work. In every organization which they
seek to capture, the communists are the readiest volunteers, the most
devoted committee workers, the most alert and active participants.
In many groups, this is in itself sufficient to gain the leadership; it is
almost always enough to justify candidacy [for leadership]. 180
The [Communists] in penetrating an organization... become the
‘best workers’ for whatever goals the organization seeks to attain. 181
This approach can be supplemented with a technique that Nelson
Mandela used with outstanding success to get and keep leadership of
the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa: He strictly controlled his
emotions, rarely allowed himself to show anger, remained always calm,
self-possessed, even-tempered. 182 This kind of deportment wins respect
and encourages others to look to an individual for leadership. Among the
Andaman Islanders, a potential chief was “a young adult in the camp who
possessed the virtues that attract even younger men to seek his company.
He was usually a good hunter, generous, and, above all, even-tempered .” 183
A revolutionary working in a radical environmentalist group won’t
need to conceal his anti-tech commitment. But for obvious reasons he must
avoid pushing anti-tech ideas aggressively, and he must not show disrespect
for radical environmentalists’ ideas. If he argues in favor of anti-tech he
must do so in a good-humored way, and if an ideological discussion becomes
heated or angry he must withdraw from it.
For the present this writer is not actually recommending that an anti¬
tech organization should use these methods to gain power and influence
within the radical environmentalist movement. The leaders of an anti-tech
organization will make that decision when the time comes, and they will
take into account the resources of their organization, the opportunities
available to it, and any other relevant factors. The point here is simply that
the ideas outlined in this section are at least worthy of serious consideration,
and that this writer would never have thought of those ideas if he hadn’t
studied Selznick’s book. This example shows how the histories and the
techniques of past movements can be an important source of ideas for an
anti-tech movement today.
30. A revolutionary organization will need a section or a committee
devoted to studying technology and keeping up with technological devel¬
opments, and not only for the purpose of attacking technology politically.
The organization also needs to be able to apply technology for its own
It is well known that in the United States (and probably in most other
countries) law-enforcement and intelligence agencies have long made use
of wire-tapping—often illegally—to keep track of the plans and activities
of politically suspect groups. But nowadays old-fashioned tapping of tele¬
phone lines is becoming obsolete and far more sophisticated eavesdropping
techniques are available, 184 along with such tools for spying as ubiquitous
surveillance cameras, face-recognition technology, hummingbird-sized
(perhaps even insect-sized) drones, and mind-reading machines. 185
In the United States, eavesdropping or spying by a government agency,
unless authorized by a court of law, violates the Fourth Amendment’s
prohibition of unreasonable searches, and at least in some cases is illegal.
But in all of the extensive legal research that this writer has conducted in
relation to constitutional rights, he has never come across a single case in
which government agents have actually been prosecuted for illegal eaves¬
dropping or spying. While a civil lawsuit might theoretically be possible
in some cases, we can say for practical purposes that almost the only legal
defense against the government’s illicit surveillance consists in the fact
that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be
used in a criminal prosecution against the victim of the violation. 186 But
there will be no prospect of criminal prosecution of members of a revolu¬
tionary organization that carefully maintains the legality of its activities.
Consequently, government agencies will have no incentive to refrain from
eavesdropping or spying on such an organization in disregard of the Fourth
Amendment. Unconstitutionally and illegally acquired knowledge of the
Chapter Four: Section 30
plans and activities of the organization may give the authorities a decisive
advantage and enable them to sabotage the organization’s efforts in various
legal or illegal ways (as was done, for example, in the COINTELPRO
program that we mentioned in section 27). 187 Revolutionaries therefore need
to be well informed about eavesdropping and spying technology, and need
to have the technical capacity to defend themselves against its illegal use.
As time passes, it becomes less and less likely that revolutions in
technologically advanced countries can be consummated by traditional
methods; for example, by crowds of people taking to the streets. A careful
study has shown that, for the traditional type of revolution, aid to the
revolutionaries by elements of the military, or at least the neutrality of the
latter, is usually required for success. 188 In the recent (2011) “Arab Spring”
revolution in Egypt, for instance, it is probable that the top military leaders
gave in to many of the protesters’ demands only because they feared that if
it ever came to a showdown and they found it necessary to order crowds to
be machine-gunned, many of their troops would refuse to obey and might
even defect to the revolutionaries. But techniques of crowd control are
becoming ever more sophisticated: People can now be dispersed or incapac¬
itated with superpowerful sound-blasters and strobe torches, 189 and a soldier
who would refuse to shoot into a crowd of his fellow citizens might have
no qualms about blasting them off the streets with unendurable volumes of
sound. Following a riot, police will be able to track down participants with
the help of images from surveillance cameras, face-recognition technology,
and records of telephone traffic. 190
More importantly, the replacement of humans by machines in the
military is proceeding apace. 191 At the moment human soldiers and police¬
men are still necessary, but, given the accelerating rate of technological
development, it is all too possible that within a couple of decades police
and military forces may consist largely of robots. These presumably will be
immune to subversion and will have no inhibitions about shooting down
Of course, technology can be used by rebels, too, against the estab¬
lished power-structure. 192 Thus, a future revolution probably will not be
carried out in the same way as any of the revolutions of the past or present.
Instead, the outcome will depend heavily on technological manipulations,
both by the authorities and by the revolutionaries. The importance for
revolutionaries of technological competence is therefore evident.
1. Selznick, p. 113.
2. See Kaczynski, pp. 265-67, 271-72, 321-24.
3. See Kaczynski, pp. 355-56.
4. See Kaczynski, p. 262, items (b), (c), (d). Smelser, p. 353, notes that when
the existing social order loses its appearance of invulnerability, new possibilities
for revolution may open up.
5. See Chapter One.
6. Horowitz, p. 126. Horowitz, pp. 63-65, describes how Fidel Castro
groped his way through the Cuban Revolution, learning from experience as he
7. Matthews, p. 123.1 seriously doubt that Hitler could have outlined his
program with any degree of precision. “In 1928, before the onset of the Great
Depression in Germany, Hitler received less than 3 percent of the vote,” and it
was the Depression that enabled him to become powerful. NEB (2003), Vol. 27,
“Socio-Economic Doctrines and Reform Movements,” p. 416. I’ve had neither the
opportunity nor much inclination to read Mein Kampf but I find it hard to believe
that Hitler, in the early 1920s when he wrote his book, could have predicted the
occurrence and the approximate time of the Depression.
8. See Alinsky, pp. 5-6, 45, 69,136,153-55, 164, 165-66, 168,183.
9. Trotsky, Vol. Three, Appendix Two, p. 409.
10. Radzinsky, p. 202. NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,” p. 934.
11. Trotsky, beginning on p. 298 of Vol. One and all through the rest of
the history of the Revolution.
12. Hoffer, § 89. Smelser, p. 381. Trotsky, Vol. One, p. xviii.
13. Selznick, p. 23 note 6 (quoting Lenin, “A Letter to a Comrade on our
Problems of Organization,” in Lenin on Organization, pp. 124-25). Alinsky, pp.
14. NEB (2003), Vol. 28, “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” p. 1000.
Cf. Kaczynski, pp. 268-69.
15. Trotsky, Vol. One, Chapt. VIII, pp. 136-152. Cf. Kaczynski, p. 267.
16. See Kaczynski, p. 358.
17. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “War, Theory and Conduct of,” p. 647; also p. 650
(views of the elder H. vonMoltke). Mao, pp. 58-61. Liddell Hart (passim, e.g.,
pp. 28-29, 40) repeatedly emphasizes the importance of what he calls “elasticity,”
by which he presumably means the ability to adapt quickly to the unexpected;
18. Dorpalen, p. 332.
19. Trotsky, Vol. Two, p. 315. See also Selznick, pp. 22, 70, 217.
20. Mao, pp. 78-79.
Chapter Four: Notes
21. See Chapter Three, Part IV.
22. Radzinsky, p. 82.
23. NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,” p. 936. NEB (2003), Vol. 28, “Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics,” p. 1002. Radzinsky, p. 375.
24. NEB (2010), Vol. 3, “Corday, Charlotte,” p. 624.
25. Kee, pp. 564, 578.
26. Kaufmann, editor’s preface to “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” p. 111.
27. Thurston, e.g, pp. 163,215,225-26, 282 note 76. NEB (2003), Vol.
29, “World Wars,” pp. 1009,1023 (table).
28. Keegan, pp. 420-432. Gilbert, European Powers, pp. 264, 266.
Manchester, pp. 527-29 (“Winston Churchill promised the Commons that
Germany ‘will be subjected to an ordeal the like of which has never been expe¬
rienced by a country in continuity, severity, and magnitude.’”), 647-48. NEB
(2003), Vol. 29, “World Wars,” pp. 1020,1024. See also Paz. In contrast to that of
German civilians, the morale of the Japanese civilian population was “brought to
breaking-point” by a bombing campaign similar to that carried out over Germany.
Keegan, p. 432. This seems surprising in view of the stoical character of the
Japanese people. Japanese soldiers tended to fight to the death rather than sur¬
render. E.g., Astor, pp. 268, 413, 843-44.
29. Wolk, p. 5. This is doubtless an extreme example, but the usual attri¬
tion rate among Allied air crews was severe enough. See Keegan, p. 433. Astor,
p. 360, cites the example of the U.S. 306th Bomb Group, of which, in the course
of 25 missions, more than one in three were killed—a few in training accidents
but most in combat. Another 28% became prisoners of war, presumably because
their aircraft were shot down. It’s true of course that air crews’ morale did suffer
when attrition became excessive. Keegan, p. 428. Astor, loc. cit.
30. Murphy, passim. It’s worth noting that—apart from the acute risk of
being killed or crippled—the physical hardships suffered by American soldiers in
World War II were minor in comparison with what other soldiers in other wars
have suffered. E.g., when Washington’s defeated, starving, and half-naked army
went into winter quarters at Valley Forge in 1777, many of the men had no shoes,
so that “the soldiers of the Revolution [could be] tracked by the blood of their feet
on the frozen ground.” Martin, pp. 58, 161. The accuracy of Martin’s memories,
written down half a century after the events, may well be questioned, but sober
history confirms that on the way to Valley Forge thousands of Washington’s men
were “barefoot and otherwise naked” and that the following winter was one of
“semi-starvation.” NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “Washington, George,” p. 703. Yet the
core of the rag-tag army held together and lived to fight again.
31. Murphy, pp. 4-8. Some Polish-Americans have disputed the claim that
Murphy was the most-decorated U.S. soldier of WWII and would assign that
honor to Lt. Col. Matt Urban (properly Urbanowicz). Polish American Journal,
Aug. 2010, p. 2; Jan. 2011, p. 7; Feb. 2012, p. 10. But Urban was given some of his
decorations only after his death in 1995, ibid., and he received the Congressional
Medal of Honor in 1980—a presidential election year—under circumstances that
suggest that the award might have been a play for the Polish-American vote. See
ibid., Sept. 2012, p. 7. So, in my opinion, Audie Murphy should be ranked as
32. Kee, p. 732.
33. Stafford, p. 193.
34. Shattuck, p. 21.
35. De Gaulle, pp. 461-62.
36. Polish American Journal , Sept. 2012, p. 8; Feb. 2013, pp. 4, 7. Knab,
pp. 1, 6. Lukowski 8c Zawadzki, pp. 261-63. For balance, it should be noted that
there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in Poland at the time, and some Poles even
helped the Nazis to round up Jews. Thurston, p. 224. Lukowski 8c Zawadzki, loc.
cit. Interestingly, one of the two women who founded Zegota, an underground
organization dedicated to saving Jews, had been “generally considered... anti-
Semitic” before the war. Jacobson, p. 7.
37. Woo, p. 11B.
38. Reid, p. 11.
39. De Gaulle, p. 713.
40. Hammer, p. 69.
41. Lee Lockwood, p. 80.
42. Gallagher, p. 45.
43. Bolivar, “Memoria dirigida a los ciudadanos de la Nueva Granada por
un Caraqueno,” in Soriano, p. 54.
44. Alinsky, p. xxii. See also p. 189 (referring to “a willingness to abstain
from hard opposition as changes take place”).
45. See Kee, pp. 519-592.
46. NEB (2003), Vol. 27, “Socio-Economic Doctrines and Reform
Movements,” p. 416.
47. See note 120 to Chapter Two.
48. See, e.g.: The Economist, July 16, 2011, p. 59; Sept. 10, 2011, p. 77. The
Week, April 13, 2012, p. 16. USA Today, Sept. 27, 2012, p. 6B.
49. See, e.g., “Egypt: A revolution reversed,” The Week, June 29, 2012,
p. 18, and any number of current (2013) news reports that follow the ongoing
development of the Egyptian situation.
50. Smelser, p. 381.
51. Marx 8c Engels, pp. 21-22 (Introduction by Francis B. Randall), 46
(Engels’s preface to English edition of 1888). Dorpalen, p. 211.
Chapter Four: Notes
52. Kee, pp. 391,405,440-564. E.g., p. 537 (“Redmond... continued rightly
to advise Birrell that these extremist forces represented only a minute proportion
53. I’ve been told that Castro is thus quoted by Pandita, p. 35.1 have not
seen Pandita’s book, but the quote is confirmed, to a close approximation, by
Shapiro, p. 139, and the original source is given as “N.Y. Times, 22 Apr. 1959.”
54. Estimates of the number range from seven to fifteen. Horowitz, p. 26.
Russell, pp. 22, 23, 116, 117. NEB (2003), Vol. 2, “Castro, Fidel,” p. 941. See
also Matthews, pp. 93-98.
55. For Batista’s army, NEB (2003), loc. cit., gives the figure 30,000. Russell,
pp. 17, 22-23, cites estimates ranging from 29,000 to 50,000 (plus 7,000 police).
For the size of Castro’s force, NEB (2003), loc. cit., says 800 men. Estimates cited
by Russell, pp. 23, 163, confirm that until just before Batista’s fall the maximum
size attained by the force under Castro’s own command was about 800, but indicate
that there were other guerrilla bands not under Castro’s direct control, so that the
total number of guerrilleros was somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500. At the very
end of the rebellion “thousands” (the figures 8,000 and 40,000 are mentioned)
“joined” Castro (though no reason is given to believe that most of these were
under Castro’s own control). Russell, pp. 23, 116, 163. But this did not happen
until at most a few days before Batista fled the country on Jan. 1, 1959. Ibid. In
other words, it was only after Batista had already been effectively defeated that
“thousands” jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon.
56. For this whole paragraph see the following: NEB (2003), loc. cit.
(“Castro’s propaganda efforts proved particularly effective...”). Horowitz, pp.
62-65, 71-72, 127, 181 (“Castro’s ability to manipulate the media is famous.”).
NEB (2003), Vol. 21, “International Relations,” p. 865, says: “Fidel Castro took
to the Sierra Maestra... and made pretensions of fighting a guerrilla war. In fact,
Castro’s campaign was largely propaganda..., and the real struggle for Cuba was
fought out in the arenas of Cuban and American public opinion.” According to
Carrillo, p. 65: “[Tjhe victory of the 26th ofjuly Movement... was possible because
that movement was not a socialist party but a kind of national front that later split
as the movement advanced, and in which the powerful personality of Fidel Castro
and his closest collaborators brought about a subsequent turn toward socialism,
while the right-wing sector openly went over to the American side.” Information in
greater detail is provided by Russell, pp. 17-28, 40-41, 78, 88,115-120,162-64.
57. Matthews, p. 96.
58. Gilbert, European Powers, p. 24.
59. See ibid.; NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,” pp. 933-34; Selznick, p. 176
note 2; and the quotation of Lenin cited in note 60 below. In 1894, according to
Lenin, “you could count the [Russian] Social-Democrats on your fingers.” This
in “What Is to Be Done?,” Chapt. Ill, section E; in Christman, p. 118. But it’s
not clear that any Social Democratic party formally existed in Russia at that date.
60. Selznick, pp. 103-04, quoting Lenin, “Lecture on the 1905 revolution,”
in Collected Works , 1942 edition, Vol. 19, pp. 389-390.
61. Trotsky, Vol. One, pp. 37, 40.
62. Radzinsky, pp. 133-34, 234.
63. See Kaczynski, pp. 265-66.
64. Trotsky, Vol. Two, p. 306.
65. Ibid., Vol. One, p. 398.
66. This refers to August and September 1917. Ibid., Vol. Two, p. 282.
67. See NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,” p. 936. Trotsky, Vol. Three, pp.
76, 88-123, 294, gives the impression that by October 1917 the Bolsheviks had
won the support of the great majority of the Russian population, or at least of the
peasants, the soldiers, and the proletariat. But Trotsky probably felt compelled
for ideological reasons to portray the Bolsheviks as having the support of “the
people.” It’s more likely that, even at the best of times, the Bolsheviks had the
active support only of some smallish minority and the mere passive acquiescence
of a larger number (possibly though not necessarily a majority), while most of
those who feared or disliked the Bolsheviks were disorganized and intimidated,
68. Actually November according to modern dating. Prior to the Revolution
Russia used “Old Style” dates, i.e., dates according to the Julian Calendar, while
most of the rest of the world was using the Gregorian Calendar, the calendar that
is still in use today. In this book we haven’t bothered to distinguish between Old
Style and New Style dates in Russian history, because the difference of some 13
days is of no importance for our purposes. Readers who want accurate dates can
refer to any history of the Russian Revolution.
69. NEB (2003), Vol. 28, “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” p. 1003.
70. Trotsky, Vol. Three, p. 294.
71. NEB (2003), loc. cit. (“In part the Bolshevik triumph can be attributed
to superior organization and better understanding of the political dimensions of
the Civil War.”). The World Book Encyclopedia, 2011, Vol. 20, “Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics,” p. 36 (“The Whites were poorly organized... .”).
72. Trotsky, Vol. One, pp. 137-140; Vol. Two, p. 302 (“The Petrograd
[St. Petersburg] Soviet [was] the parent of all the other soviets... .”); Vol. Three
generally, especially pp. 88-123.
73. See ISAIF, paragraph 196, in Kaczynski, p. 101.
74. Trotsky, Vol. Three, pp. 173, 284.
75. Ibid., p. 130.
76. Alinsky, p. 107.
77. Trotsky, Vol. Two, pp. 4, 7.
Chapter Four: Notes
78. Alinsky, pp. 77-78,113-14,120,128-29.
79. Trotsky, Vol. One, pp. xviii-xix. See also ibid., p. 110 (“A revolutionary
uprising... can develop victoriously only in case it ascends step by step, and scores
one success after another. A pause in its growth is dangerous; a prolonged marking
of time, fatal.”). I can’t pretend to say under just what circumstances these dicta
of Trotsky’s are actually valid, but there are numerous counterexamples to them
unless the term “revolutionary uprising” is interpreted very narrowly. It remains
true, however, that momentum is a very important factor in revolution, as it is in
many other conflict situations.
80. Trotsky, Vol. Two, pp. 9-31, 63, 68, 73, 82-83.
81. Alinsky, pp. 27-28, 78, 133-34. See also ISAIF, paragraph 186, in
Kaczynski, p. 98.
82. “In a serious struggle there is no worse cruelty than to be magnanimous
at an inopportune time.” Trotsky, Vol. Three, p. 215.
83. Ibid., Vol. One, pp. 323-24.
84. Ibid., Vol. Two, p. 453.
85. Ibid., p. 306.
86. Ibid., Vol. Three, p. 166.
87. See note 23 to Chapter One. On Myanmar, see “Nuclear Warning,”
The Week, June 18, 2010, p. 7.
88. Nissani, Chapt. 2, especially pp. 62-69. NEB (2003), Vol. 8, “nuclear
winter,” p. 821. Shukman, pp. 44-45.
89. See Rule (iii) of Chapter Three; Alinsky, p. 113 (“power comes from
organization... . Power and organization are one and the same.”).
90. This is essentially what the dispute between Lenin and Martov was
about. Selznick, p. 57 denote 43. See also Dorpalen, p. 115; NEB (2010), Vol. 22,
“Lenin,” pp. 933-34. It was Lenin, of course, who proved to be right.
91. See Rule (iv) of Chapter Three.
92. Cf. Smelser, pp. 120-22, 313-325.
93. Trotsky, Vol. Three, p. 166.
94. See Trotsky, Vol. Two, p. 311 (“strength is accumulated in struggle and
not in passive evasion of it”).
95. Mao, p. 161.
96. Selznick, p. 132, quoting from a Communist document.
97. Selznick, p. 49, quoting Lenin, “Where to Begin,” in Collected Works,
1929 edition, Vol. 4, Book I, p. 114.
98. Fidel Castro, letter of Aug. 14, 1954, in Conte Agiiero; quoted in
Horowitz, pp. 62-63.
99. Stalin, pp. 116-17; quoted by Selznick, p. 35.
100. Sampson, p. 427.
101. Ibid., p. 50. See also pp. 403, 427 (Mandela always regarded himself
as a “loyal and disciplined member” of the ANC).
102. In Chapter One, Part III, we’ve called attention to the fact that the
formally empowered leaders of an entire nation have in reality only limited power
over the functioning of their society, and of course the leaders of any organization
face a similar problem to a greater or lesser degree. So the question arises of the
extent to which the leaders of an anti-tech organization will actually be able to
control it. I won’t attempt a serious discussion of this difficult subject, but will
merely point out that the problem of control is far less acute in the case of our
revolutionary organization than it is in the case of an entire nation or even of an
entity such as a large corporation. To mention only one reason, the revolutionary
organization will be to a great extent ideologically uniform because its members
are to be recruited selectively (see section 14, above), troublesome members will
be relatively easy to identify and expel, and any dissident faction that may develop
should withdraw to form a separate organization (see section 19). This will tend
strongly to reduce the conflict of individual wills within the organization.
Later, when the revolutionaries assume leadership of a mass movement,
the problem of control may indeed be acute. (Recall for example the case of the
“July Days”—mentioned above, section 12—in which the Bolsheviks were able to
prevent an untimely insurrection only at very great cost to themselves. See Trotsky,
Vol. Two, pp. 1-84, 250-58.) On the other hand, even at this stage, the fact of
being locked in a hard struggle against external adversaries will tend to unite the
movement behind its leaders, and this will facilitate control.
In well-organized revolutionary movements such as those of the Bolsheviks
and the Nazis, the core of the movement (though not necessarily the mass fol¬
lowing) seems to have remained, generally speaking, well under the control of
the leaders prior to the time when the movement came into power. But once the
movement had assumed the government of an entire nation, grave problems of
control did emerge. See Chapter One, Part III; Chapter Three, passim.
103. See Selznick, pp. 96-97 &. note 17, 288 note 15.
104. See Schebesta, II. Band, I. Teil, p. 8; Turnbull, Forest People, pp. 110,
125, and Wayward Servants, pp. 27, 28, 42, 178-181, 183, 187, 228, 256, 274,
105. Trotsky, Vol. Two, p. 306.
106. Ibid., Vol. One, pp. 306-313.
107. NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,” pp. 933-34. Though the name
“Menshevik” (from “menshe” = “smaller”) implies minority status and “Bolshevik”
(from “bolshe” = “bigger”) implies that the Bolsheviks were a majority, the
Bolsheviks were in fact a minority. Ibid., p. 933. Christman, editor’s introduc¬
tion, p. 6. See also Lenin, “The State and Revolution,” Chapt. IV, section 6; in
Christman, p. 332.
Chapter Four: Notes
108. NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,” p. 934. Here it is stated that “not a few
Bolsheviks supported the war effort.” Hence, the “closest comrades” who followed
Lenin on this issue comprised only some subset of the Bolsheviks. But Buhle 8c
Sullivan, p. 174, say that “Lenin’s Bolshevik party in Russia, directed supporters
to appeal to workers across national boundaries, to halt the war and turn it into a
class war against the ruling cliques.” So it’s not clear whether the whole Bolshevik
party or only some subset of it supported Lenin on this point. For our purposes
the question is not sufficiently important to justify the research effort that would
be needed to answer it.
109. NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin,” p. 935.
110. Trotsky, Vol. One, pp. 298-312.
111. Ibid., Vol. Three, pp. 124-166.
112. Alinsky, pp. 60, 79.
113. Ibid., pp. 19,105-06,113-14,117-19,178, 194.
114. Trotsky, Vol. Three, p. 73.
115. Selznick, p. 39 (quoting Dimitrov, p. 124). In 1918 (NEB (2010), Vol.
22, “Lenin,” p. 936; NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “Work and Employment,” pp. 956-57)
or 1919 (Selznick, p. 10 note 3) the Bolsheviks changed their name to “Russian
Communist Party (Bolsheviks).” Accordingly, we here use the term “Communist”
to refer to the post-1919 Bolsheviks, their adherents, and their successors.
116. Cf. ISAIF, paragraph 141, in Kaczynski, pp. 81-82.
117. Trotsky, Vol. One, p. 294; Vol. Two, pp. 310-11; Vol. Three, p. 127,
Appendix One, p. 376.
118. Ibid., Vol. Two, p. 312.
119. Ibid., Vol. Two, p. 320; Vol. Three, pp. 127-28.
120. Mao, p. 346 (editors’ note at the foot of the page).
121. Mao, p. 397. See also p. 189.
122. Trotsky, Vol. Two, p. 251. See also Alinsky, p. 114.
123. This cursory account has been pieced together from two sources
that are not perfectly consistent with one another: Kendrick, pp. 237-39 and
MacFadyen, Chapts. IV, V.
124. NEB (2003), Vol. 1, “Alfred,” p. 260.
125. For the whole story see Barrow, Duncan, and NEB (2003), Vol. 29,
“United Kingdom,” pp. 40-41,120. John Barbour’s poem is by no means accurate
historically, but the editor, Duncan, provides copious notes in which he tries to
sort out fact from legend.
126. Barrow, pp. 154, 160-61, 164, 166-171. Barbour, Books 2, 3, in
127. Barrow, p. 166.
128. Ibid., p. 187.
129. Ibid, p. 165.
130. Lidtke, pp. 77-81.
131. Ibid., p. 81.
132. Ibid., pp. 89-97.
133. Ibid., pp. 97-104.
134. Ibid., p. 185. Compare the figures on this page with those on p. 74.
135. Mao, p. 307.
136. Ibid., p. 309 note 6 and pp. 177-78 note 3.
137. Sampson, p. 259.
138. See Selznick, p. 10 note 3, pp. 103-04; NEB (2010), Vol. 22, “Lenin”
139. Gilbert, European Powers, p. 25.
140. Radzinsky, p. 90 (quoting an old witness who had lived through the
141. Gilbert, loc. cit.
142. Trotsky, Vol. One, pp. 36-37.
143. Ibid., Vol. Two, pp. 1-84.
144. Ibid., pp. 250-58.
145. Ibid, p. 256.
146. Ibid, p. 258.
147. Radzinsky, p. 324.
148. Matthews, p. 95.
149. Ibid, p. 31.
150. Ibid, pp. 96-97.
151. E.g, Mao, pp. 476-78; Saney, pp. 19-20; Christman, editor’s intro¬
duction, p. 4.
152. Duncan, p. 120 (editor’s note to Barbour’s Book 3).
153. That personal ambition was Bruce’s principal motive can be inferred
from Barrow, pp. xii, 17-18, 33, 41-44, 84, 110, 121-22, 124, 141, 142-44,146,
150,174, 200,202, 245, 254, 262, 313.
154. Cruelties inflicted on English: Barrow, pp. 197, 236,240,243, 248,
254,256,262; on Scots: pp. 174,175-77,181-82,189,190,194,256; on Irish, p.
315. See also Duncan, loc. cit. and passim.
155. See Kee, pp. 351-470.
156. See NEB (2003), Vol. 26, “Propaganda,” pp. 176,177.
157. Ibid., p. 176.
158. “[A] great deal of [Lenin’s] writing is devoted to the drawing of lines
between his group and others... there was this great emphasis on sharp differen¬
tiation... .” Selznick, p. 127. See Lenin, “What Is to Be Done?,” Chapt. I, section
D; in Christman, pp. 69-70.
159. See Kaczynski, pp. 128-189, 377-380; Green Anarchy # 8, “Place the
Blame Where it Belongs,” p. 19; Kevin Tucker, letter to editor, Anarchy. A Journal
Chapter Four: Notes
of Desire Armed# 62 (Fall-Winter 2006), pp. 72-73; T.J. Kaczynski, letter to editor,
ibid., # 63 (Spring-Summer 2007), pp. 81-82.
160. Kaczynski, pp. 14-15. ISAIF, paragraphs 213-230, in Kaczynski,
161. Matthews, p. 103.
162. Information about COINTELPRO can be found in the opinion of
Judge Edwards, Hobson v. Wilson , 737 F. 2d 1 (D.C. Cir. 1984). This means Vol.
737, Federal Reporter , Second Series, page 1, United States Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia Circuit, 1984. For further information see the report
cited in ibid., p. 10 note 8: Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With
Respect to Intelligence Activities, Final Report, S. Rep. No. 755, Bookll (Intelligence
Activities and the Rights of Americans), 94th Congress, Second Session (1976).
163. Warrior WindNo. 2, pp. 1-2 (available at the University of Michigan’s
Special Collections Library in Ann Arbor). The informer may even have been an
agente provocatrice. Ibid.
164. Lipsher, pp. 1A, 25A. Three of the names mentioned in Lipsher’s
article (Gerlach, Ferguson, Rodgers) are also mentioned in Warrior Wind No. 2,
165. Sampson, pp. 170,171,183,245-47, 254,258-260, 313-14, 387.
166. Kee, pp. 563, 648.
167. Matthews, pp. 102-03.
168. Guevara, e.g., p. 261.
169. Lidtke, p. 94.
170. Ibid., p. 93.
171. Ibid., p. 98.
172. Pipes, p. 25 note 2.
173. Trotsky, Vol. One, p. 37. Interesting information about the methods
of the Tsar’s secret police can be found in Vassilyev.
174. Pipes, pp. 24-25. It may be, however, that Lenin “allowed for” the
possibility that Malinovsky was a spy, “but thought that... the Bolsheviks benefited
more than the police from his duplicity.” Ibid.
175. See Kaczynski, pp. 266, 304-05.
176. Mao, pp. 58-59, 61-62, 71-72, 77-80,198-208. Not everything in
this paragraph was explicitly stated by Mao, but all of it can be inferred from what
he did state explicitly.
177. All this is a major theme of Selznick’s book. See, e.g., pp. 66-67, 90,
118-19,150-54,171-72, 175,189-190, 208-09, 212 & note 43.
178. Cf. ibid., p. 19.
179. Ibid., pp. 126-28.
180. Ibid., p. 250.
181. Ibid., p. 319. Of course, anti-tech people in a radical environmentalist
group will be able to work only for those radical environmentalist goals that do
not conflict with the goals of their own anti-tech organization.
182. Sampson, pp. 210, 215, 242, 337, 491, 574.
183. Coon, p. 243 (emphasis added).
184. See, e.g., The Week , Oct. 8, 2010, p. 8, and April 13, 2012, p. 16.
185. E.g.: Cameras: The Week , Sept. 9, 2011, p. 14; USA Today, Jan. 4,
2013, p. 7A. Face recognition: The Economist, July 30, 2011, p. 56. Drones: Time,
Oct. 22, 2007, p. 17 and Nov. 28, 2011, pp. 66-67; The Week, Jan. 14, 2011, p.
20, March 4, 2011, p. 22, Dec. 23, 2011, p. 14, June 15, 2012, p. 11, and June
28, 2013, pp. 36-37; The Economist, April 2, 2011, p. 65; Wired, July 2012, pp.
100—111; ^zr & Space, Dec. 2012/Jan. 2013, pp. 32-39. Mind-reading machines:
The Economist, Oct. 29,2011, pp. 18, 93-94; Time, Nov. 28,2011, p. 67; The Week,
Feb. 17, 2012, p. 23. Massive collection of data on individual citizens: The Week,
Jan. 29, 2010, p. 14 and Sept. 17, 2010, p. 15; USA Today, Jan 7,2013, p. 6A. The
facts revealed by Edward Snowden have been so widely publicized that it hardly
seems necessary to cite any articles, but as an example we mention USA Today,
June 17, 2013, pp. 1A-2A.
186. This is the “exclusionary rule.” In practice, the federal courts generally
enforce the exclusionary rule reluctantly and tend to invent exceptions to it.
187. For COINTELPRO, see note 162, above. For information about legal
and illegal dirty tricks used by the CIA, see J.B. Smith, passim, e.g., pp. 81-82.
188. Russell (the entire book).
189. “New riot-control technology: The sound and the fury,” The Economist,
Aug. 13, 2011, p. 56. Current (August 2013) events in Egypt suggest that such
technologies are not yet available in that country. See, e.g., USA Today, Aug. 16,
2013, p. 1A.
190. E.g., “The BlackBerry riots,” The Economist, Aug. 13, 2011, p. 52.
191. Milstein, pp. 40-47. Whittle, pp. 28-33. Markoff, “Pentagon Offers
Robotics Prize,” p. B4. The Economist, April 2, 2011, p. 65. National Geographic,
Aug. 2011, pp. 82-83. Time, Jan. 9, 2012, p. 30. Cf. Kaczynski, p. 328.
192. E.g.: Acohido, “Hactivist group,” p. IB. Acohido 8cEisler, p. 5A. The
Week, Feb. 18, 2011, p. 6. USA Today, June 1, 2011, p. 2A, and June 11, 2012, p.
1A. The Economist, March 19, 2011, pp. 89-90 and Dec. 10, 2011, p. 34.
In Support of Chapter One
A. In answer to the arguments of Chapter One, true-believing
technophiles like Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Kelly are likely to answer:
“Technology will solve all those problems! Human beings will be trans¬
formed step by step into man-machine hybrids (cyborgs), or even into pure
machines, that will be incomparably more intelligent than their human
ancestors. 1 With their superior intelligence, these beings will be able to use
the technological miracles of the future to guide the development of their
society rationally.” However, none of the arguments of Chapter One (with
one exception, noted below) depend on the limitations of human intelligence
or on any weaknesses peculiar to human beings, so there is every reason to
think that the arguments will remain valid for a society derived from the
present one through the piecemeal replacement of humans by machines in
the manner envisioned by Kurzweil.
B. The technophiles won’t be rash enough to claim that any future
technological miracle will make it possible for a society to predict its own
development over any substantial interval of time. But some, perhaps, will
point to the fact that the modern mathematical theory of control now makes
it possible—in some cases—to design mechanisms that will keep a complex
system on a fixed course even if only the short-term “eff ect of any potential
control action applied to the system” can be predicted (though the effect
must be predictable “precisely... under all possible environmental circum¬
stances”). 2 But in the context of control theory a system is called “complex”
if “the efforts of many persons and the use of special technical equipment
(computers) are required to draw the whole picture,” 3 and examples of “com¬
plex” systems are “[t]he launch of a spaceship, the 24-hour operation of a
power plant, oil refinery, or chemical factory, the control of air traffic near
a large airport.” 4 In the present discussion we are dealing with an entirely
different level of complexity. Any one power plant, oil refinery, or chemical
factory is extremely simple in comparison with an entire modern society.
Actually, a careful reading of what the Britannica says about control
theory 5 will give scant encouragement to anyone who might like to believe
that the theory would make possible the rational control of the develop¬
ment of an entire society. Among other reasons, control theory generally
“is applicable to any concrete situation... [only when] that situation can
be described, with high precision, by a [mathematical] model,” and the
applicability of the theory is limited by “the agreement between available
models and the actual behavior of the system to be controlled.” 6 For con¬
trol of an entire society one would need a precise mathematical model of,
among other things, human behavior (or of the behavior of cyborgs or of
machines descended from humans, which in Kurzweil’s vision would be far
more complex even than human beings themselves). In special contexts, as
when one needs only statistical information about human behavior, adequate
models maybe possible. E.g., in a marketing study one maybe unconcerned
with the actions of individuals; one may need only such information as
the percentage of consumers who will buy a given product in specified
circumstances. But for control of an entire society one would need a precise
mathematical model of the behavior of each single one of numerous persons
(whether human persons or machine-persons) including, at the least, all
those who occupy positions of special importance (political leaders, top-
level government officials, military officers, corporation executives, etc.)
and whose individual behavior interacts continuously with the society as a
whole and has a significant effect on it.
All the same, let’s make the extremely daring assumption that a pre¬
cise mathematical model of our entire society could actually be constructed.
Even so, it is wildly improbable that sufficient computing power could ever
be available to handle the trillions upon trillions upon trillions of simulta¬
neous equations that would be involved. Remember what we pointed out in
Part II of Chapter One: that sixty trillion equations would be required just
for prices in the U.S. economy alone, leaving out of account all other factors
in U.S. and world society; and that even if some future society had enough
computing power for control of the present society, it wouldn’t have enough
to control its own development, because the complexity of a society grows
right along with its computing power. Finally, even if enough computing
power were available, it would be impracticable to collect the stupendous
amount of minutely detailed, highly precise information that would be
required for insertion of the appropriate numbers into the equations.
Appendix One: Part C
Thus, it is safe to conclude that no society will ever be able to set
up a mathematically designed control system that will keep the society
forever on a fixed course of development. Let us nevertheless carry to the
utmost extreme our generosity toward the true-believing technophiles:
Let’s grant them the impossible and assume that such a control system
could successfully be designed. Even under this assumption we still run up
against fundamental difficulties: Who is going to decide what objectives
are to guide the design of the control system that is to keep the society on a
fixed course of development, and what fixed course of development should
be chosen for the society? And how will the society be induced to accept the
control system and the chosen course of development? If the control system
is to be approved by the public at large it will have to be a compromise
solution that in trying to satisfy everyone will satisfy no one. In practice, it
is unlikely that such a compromise could ever win general acceptance, so
any control system would have to be forcibly imposed by an authoritarian
faction that had acquired dictatorial power. In that case—let the citizen
beware! Furthermore, if any faction ever became powerful enough to impose
its own solution on society, it would probably be riven thereafter by internal
power-struggles. (Recall the remark of Benjamin Franklin quoted in Part
II of Chapter Two, and see Part C of Appendix Two, below.)
The notion of a future society governed in accord with a mathemat¬
ical control system, rationally chosen and designed, can be dismissed as
C. Let’s take another look at the idea that we considered and
disposed of in Part V of Chapter One: that of an all-powerful philosopher-
king. In order even to entertain the notion that such a philosopher-king
could rationally steer the development of a society, we already had to
make assumptions that were wildly improbable. We then noted that, even
granting those assumptions, we still ran into fundamental difficulties: that
of selecting a satisfactory philosopher-king and putting him into a position
of absolute power; and that of ensuring the succession, after the death of
the original philosopher-king, of a long line of competent and conscientious
philosopher-kings who would all govern in accord with some stable and
permanent system of values.
The technophiles will have a ready answer to the second difficulty:
They will argue that biotechnology will make it possible in the future
to hold back the aging process indefinitely ; 7 hence, our philosopher-king
will be immortal and the question of choosing a successor will never arise.
But this still doesn’t solve the problem of rational guidance of a society’s
development, for people change over time, and our philosopher-king will
change too. His decisions will affect the society in which he lives in ways
that will not be fully predictable, and the changes in society will in turn
affect the philosopher-king’s goals and values in ways that cannot be fore¬
seen. Consequently, the society’s development over the long term will
not be steered in accord with any stable system of values but will drift
At this point in our discussion—and only at this point—the distinction
between human beings and intelligent machines becomes relevant: In place
of a human philosopher-king, technophiles may propose rule by a super¬
computer hardwired to adhere forever to a fixed system of values. Even if
we assume that such a computer could be created and that it would remain
internally stable, we still face fundamental difficulties: Who is going to
decide what values are to be hardwired into the electronic philosopher-king,
and how will they put their electronic philosopher-king into a position of
absolute power? This is no more easy to answer than the question discussed
in Part V of Chapter One of how to choose a human philosopher-king and
put him into a position of absolute power, or the question discussed in Part
B of this appendix of how to choose a mathematical control system and
secure the submission of society to its rule.
It would in any event be impossible to formulate a satisfactory system
of values. Any values would be sure to give unsatisfactory results if they were
sufficiently precise and rigid to determine the electronic philosopher-king’s
decisions in all cases without leaving the machine any substantial discretion
to make its own value-judgments. This will be clear to anyone who has ever
done much research in American constitutional law. The rules of decision
laid down by the courts are full of vague “balancing tests” and indefinite
“factors” on which judges are supposed to rely in deciding cases. Two judges
applying the same “balancing test” or “factors” in the same case will often
come to radically different conclusions; hence the numerous dissenting
opinions that one finds in the published decisions of the U.S. Circuit Courts
and the Supreme Court. The reason why the rules of decision are so vague
and flexible is that it is impossible to formulate precise, rigid principles
that will determine the outcome of all cases in even a remotely satisfactory
way. If the courts were held strictly to any such set of rigid principles, they
Appendix One: Part D
would be forced to make many decisions that practically everyone would
regard as unreasonable.
On the other hand, if the system of values hardwired into the elec¬
tronic philosopher-king were sufficiently vague or flexible to allow the
machine any significant leeway to make its own value-judgments, gone
would be the stability of values that the hardwiring was supposed to ensure.
Where principles are in any substantial degree vague or flexible, one can
usually find awayto justify almost anything in terms of them. Hence, two
decisions that are both arguably in harmony with the same set of principles
can have radically different practical consequences; this again is seen in
the dissenting as against the majority opinions of the U.S. federal courts.
Thus, even apart from all other difficulties, the impossibility of for¬
mulating a satisfactory system of values is by itself sufficient to justify us
in dismissing as science fiction the notion of a future society ruled by a
supercomputer hardwired to govern according to a stable and permanent
system of values, if the system of values is expected to give results that we
would regard as even marginally acceptable.
D. The reader may wonder why we have even bothered with this
excursion into science fiction. But for the problems facing our society today
it is likely that technophiles will envision future solutions that to most
people will look like science fiction. Ray Kurzweil’s book, for example,
is full of that type of material, and much of it is indeed science fiction.
Nonetheless, it is always risky to dismiss ideas about future technological
developments as science fiction solely because they seem implausible on
vague intuitive grounds. Things that seemed implausible at the outset of the
Industrial Revolution, or even just a few decades ago, are not the least bit
implausible today. To mention only one example, back in the 1950s, when
Moore’s Law had never been heard of, most people, probably including most
computer scientists, would have dismissed as implausible the suggestion
that fifty years later every Tom, Dick, and Harry would hold comfortably
in his lap more computing power than that of a whole roomful of 1950s
computing machinery costing millions of dollars. Futuristic proposals need
to be examined critically and dismissed as science fiction only when good
reasons for the dismissal have been found.
But whatever technological miracles the future may have in store, we
think there are excellent reasons for dismissing as science fiction the notion
that the development of a society will ever be subject to rational guidance.
1. Kurzweil, e.g., pp. 194-203, 307-311, 324-26, 374-77, 472.
2. NEB (2003), Vol. 25, “Optimization, Mathematical Theory of,” p. 224.
3. Ibid., p. 223.
4. Ibid., p. 224.
5. Ibid., pp. 223-26.
6. Ibid., p. 224.
7. E.g., “Mr. Immortality,” The Week , Nov. 16,2007, pp. 52-53; Grossman,
pp. 46-47; Kurzweil, pp. 9, 212-15, 371.
In Support of Chapter Two
A. Proposition 2 of Chapter Two states that in the short term, natural
selection favors self-propagating systems that pursue their own short-term
advantage with little or no regard for long-term consequences.
• Steven Le Blanc 1 argues that among primitive societies natural
selection favors ecological recklessness. Suppose one group lives prudently
within its resources while a neighboring group allows its population to grow
to the point where its resources are over-strained, so that its environment
is damaged and it can no longer feed itself adequately. In order to find an
outlet for its surplus population, the second group may try to take the first
group’s territory by force, and it is likely to succeed, because it has more
people and can put more warriors into the field than the first group can.
“This smacks of a Darwinian competition—survival of the fittest—between
societies. Note that the ‘fittest’ of our two groups was not the more ecolog¬
ical, it was the one that grew faster.” 2 Le Blanc admits that his argument is
oversimplified, 3 and certainly it is not applicable in all circumstances, but
it does seem to contain a good deal of truth.
• During the 1920s the Soviets needed to acquire technological
equipment from industrialized countries in order to catch up with the
West economically, so they resorted to trade with Western capitalists. 4
One might have thought that capitalists would refuse to trade with com¬
munists, since the latter were bent on destroying capitalism, but in order
to make a profit the capitalists were willing, as Lenin allegedly put it, to
“sell the rope to their own hangmen.” 5 In 1971, Alinsky claimed to “feel
confident” that he could “persuade a millionaire on a Friday to subsidize
a revolution for Saturday out of which he would make a huge profit on
Sunday even though he was certain to be executed on Monday.” 6 Alinsky
was exaggerating for humorous effect, but his remark does reflect a truth
about capitalism. It’s easy to attribute the capitalists’ shortsightedness to
“greed,” but there is a reason why capitalists are greedy: Those who forgo
profit in the present from concern for long-term consequences tend to be
eliminated by natural selection.
• The U.S. financial crisis that began in 2007 resulted from the
widespread offering of risky (“subprime”) loans to borrowers who needed the
money to buy homes but might never be able to pay it back. 7 Lenders such as
savings-and-loan associations sold the right to collect their subprime loans
to other financial organizations, which sold the right in turn to still other
organizations, and so forth, in a process much too complex to be described
here. The subprime loan market was so lucrative and important that even
the government-sponsored enterprise known as Fannie Mae feared “the
danger that the market would pass [it] by” 8 if it refused to deal in subprime
loans. Fannie Mae was so big and powerful that its survival would not have
been threatened if it had not participated in the subprime loan market,
but we can imagine that many smaller, private financial enterprises would
have been unable to survive in the face of competition if they had failed
to make use of the opportunities offered by subprime loans. However, for
enterprises that did make use of those opportunities there was a terrible
price to be paid when the housing bubble burst. Even the two gigantic
government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, collapsed
and had to be rescued by the government. 9 Needless to say, many private
financial enterprises too went bankrupt. 10 What appears to have happened
is that the pressure of competition forced these enterprises to take risks
that later had fatal consequences. No doubt greed too was involved, but,
as we pointed out a moment ago, capitalists who are not greedy tend to be
eliminated by natural selection.
• In the modern world, international trade is highly important for
the economic success of the nations involved; 11 it is even believed that no
modern nation could survive economically if it did not participate in inter¬
national trade. 12 But in the longer term such trade entails serious risks:
[A] country that has become heavily involved in international trade
has given hostages to fortune: a part of its industry has become depen¬
dent upon export markets for income and for employment. Any cutoff
of these foreign markets... would be acutely serious; and yet it would
be a situation largely beyond the power of the domestic government
involved to alter. Similarly, another part of domestic industry may
rely on an inflow of imported raw materials, such as oil for fuel and
power. Any restriction of these imports could have the most serious
Appendix Two: Part B
and reliance on the importation of manufactured goods too can be risky. 14
It’s possible that Germany’s dependence on international trade was
a decisive factor in that country’s defeat in World War I, for the British
blockade was so effective in cutting off German trade that by the end of the
war it had brought Germany to the verge of starvation. 15 On the other hand,
Britain’s dependence on international trade would have led to a German
victory in either World War I or World War II if the British hadn’t suc¬
ceeded, with American help, in defeating Germany’s submarine campaign,
for the U-boats would otherwise have starved Britain into submission. 16
What we see, therefore, is that for the sake of economic survival in the
short term nations must take the risk of allowing themselves to become
dependent on international trade, even though their dependence may have
grave or even fatal consequences in the long run.
• It is currently believed that the United States is “the most prof¬
ligate or wasteful” of all developed countries in its use and abuse of its
natural resources. 17 This has probably been true throughout U.S. history.
In colonial times, American farming methods were recognized as highly
improvident in comparison with European ones, 18 and Zimmermann points
out the reckless and wasteful way in which, during the 1860s and 1870s,
the fabled Comstock Lode in Nevada was exhausted within twenty years,
whereas, says Zimmermann, a similar body of ore in Europe would have
provided thousands of miners with a livelihood for centuries. 19 This was
probably typical of American mining practices at the time. Yet America’s
profligacy in the use of its natural resources didn’t prevent it from becom¬
ing the world’s dominant economic power. And the country that is now
beginning to challenge America’s dominance is China, which is notorious
for its environmental irresponsibility. 20 As these examples illustrate, reckless
exploitation of natural resources can favor the achievement of power in the
short term, however deadly its long-term consequences may be.
B. In connection with Propositions 4 and 5 of Part II of Chapter
Two, we mentioned that pre-industrial empires stretching over vast dis¬
tances “actively created, if they did not already have, relatively rapid means
of transportation and communication.”
The Egyptians had the Nile. The Romans relied heavily on water
transport over the Mediterranean and the rivers that flowed into it, 21 and
for overland travel they built their famous roads. Imperial China had an
extensive system of canals. 22 The Song (Sung) dynasty “maintained high¬
ways, with staffed stations, for official travel and a courier service network,
the latter being an index of centralized government control,” and moreover
“carried out a program of public works including construction and repair
of roads, ... bridges, ... transport and communications facilities... .” 23
Presumably other dynasties too did something of that sort. The Mongol
empire of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan “utilized homing pigeons as messen¬
gers” and had “an extensive system of messenger posts” through which relays
of riders carried messages at top speed. 24 The Incas maintained roads over
which relays of runners could carry messages rapidly, while freight was
transported on the backs of human porters or llamas. 25
The Maya never built an empire of any substantial extent, and their
lack of developed facilities for long-distance transportation or communica¬
tion probably had something to do with this. 26 The Aztecs likewise lacked
developed facilities for long-distance transportation or communication, 27
yet their “empire” at its peak measured roughly 500 miles in its maximum
dimension, not counting the detached territory of Soconusco. 28 However,
the Aztec “empire” hardly deserved that name: Conquered peoples could be
forced to pay taxes or contribute troops for Aztec campaigns, but in other
respects centralized control was almost nonexistent. 29 Even at that, the
“empire” had evidently reached the maximum geographical extent that was
possible with the existing means of transportation and communication, 30
and it was probably unstable, for revolts were frequent. 31
C. It seems clear in general that internal dissension within large
human groups tends to be inversely proportional to the magnitude of exter¬
nal threats or challenges to the group, so that a dramatic reduction of
external threats or challenges tends to be followed by a marked increase in
internal dissension. Here, as so often elsewhere, “clean” historical exam¬
ples are scarce, due to the complexity of historical developments in the
real world. See note 7 to Chapter Two. But we offer four relatively clean
• “The general view of thinking Romans was that the relaxation
of external pressures” due to “the temporary end of the age of major wars
(ca 130 BC)” was what led to the “internal disintegration” of the Roman
Republic. 32 Though the Britannica seems uncertain, it’s hard to believe that
the relaxation of external pressures was not at least a contributing factor in
the rise of internal conflict at Rome.
Appendix Two: Part D
• “The landing of Spanish troops near Tampico [about 1829] rallied
the [Mexican] nation to a unified effort, and the intrepid General Santa
Anna... defeated the invaders... . For a moment, the victory bolstered
Mexican national pride. But now the danger from abroad that had served
to unite the country... vanished and internal dissensions took on a new
and ugly face.” 33
• With the disappearance of the external danger from Britain at
the end of the American War of Independence in 1783, “disunity began
to threaten to turn into disintegration. ... The states were setting up their
own tariff barriers against each other and quarreling among themselves... .”
This no doubt is why John Adams (the future President) wrote not long
after the end of the war that the United States needed an external enemy
to protect it from the “danger of dividing.” 34
• During the latter part of World War II, when it had become clear
that Germany was irrevocably on the road to defeat, “the Anglo-American
accord, which had held very strongly during the testing two and a half years
of defeat followed by only peripheral attack, instead of being warmed by
the sun of victory began badly to cool. ... [The dispute about Operation
Anvil] escalated between 21 June and 1 July  from disagreements at
the Chiefs of Staff level to exchanges between Prime Minister and President
that were far more acrimonious than anything which had previously passed
between them. ... [T]he Anvil disagreement was the beginning of a new
pattern. Before it the American and British Chiefs of Staff had rarely
disagreed on a major issue. After it they were rarely on the same side of
any issue... .” 35
D. In Part II of Chapter Two we discuss self-prop systems that arise
to challenge the dominant global self-prop systems. All the examples we
give there consist of (formal or informal) organizations of human beings,
but self-prop systems that challenge the global self-prop systems also appear
at the biological level. Thus there are invasive species—plants or animals
that multiply uncontrollably in new environments 36 —and new infectious
diseases (e.g., AIDS and Lyme disease) that arise more rapidly than means
for curing or preventing them can be found. 37 In addition, older varieties of
disease-causing bacteria that once seemed well under control have evolved
new forms that are resistant to antibiotics, so that the corresponding diseases
are difficult or impossible to cure. 38
But in the long run these self-prop systems will probably b e less dan¬
gerous to the global self-prop systems than will those biological self-prop
systems that have been intentionally or unintentionally created or altered
through direct human action, e.g., through genetic engineering. One would
have to be extraordinarily naive to imagine that organisms created, altered,
or manipulated by humans will always remain safely under control, and
in fact there already have been cases in which such organisms have not
remained under control, including cases in which organisms have escaped
from research facilities. 39 Such escaped organisms have the potential to
do serious harm. 40 For example, the so-called “killer bees” are a hybrid of
European and African bees that escaped from a research facility in Brazil.
Since then they have spread over much of South America and into the
United States, and they have killed hundreds of people. 41
It’s true that, to date, none of these biological self-prop systems
has come close to threatening the survival of any of the dominant global
self-prop systems, but present-day biotechnology is still in its infancy in
comparison with what we can expect for the coming decades. As human
interventions in biology reach further and further, the risk of disastrous
consequences continually rises, and as long as the technological equip¬
ment needed for such interventions exists, there are no practicable means
of controlling this risk. Small groups of amateurs are already dabbling in
genetic engineering. 42 These amateurs wouldn’t have to create synthetic life
or do anything highly sophisticated in order to bring on a disaster; merely
changing a few genes in an existing organism could have catastrophic con¬
sequences. The chances of disaster in any one instance may be remote, but
there are potentially thousands or millions of amateurs who could begin
monkeying with the genes of microorganisms, and thousands or millions
of minute risks can add up to a very substantial risk.
Some people think it may become possible in the future to create
microscopic (“nanotechnological”), non-biological self-prop systems that
could reproduce themselves uncontrollably, with deadly consequences for
the whole world. 43 Others claim that (macroscopic) self-reproducing robots
will probably be built, and even the rabid technophile Ray Kurzweil admits
that such machines will evolve beyond the control of human beings. 44 This
writer does not have the technical expertise to judge whether such specula¬
tions are plausible or whether they should be dismissed as science fiction.
Yet, today’s science fiction often turns out to be tomorrow’s fact.
Appendix Two: Part E
Because of their ability to reproduce themselves by the billions in a
short time, microscopic self-prop systems, biological or not, may prove to
be especially dangerous to the global self-prop systems. On the other hand,
human self-prop systems may turn out to be more dangerous after all, not
only because they are intelligent, but also because they exist as subsystems
of the global self-prop systems and therefore can potentially impair the
integrity of the latter. But this line of inquiry is leading us too far into
speculation, so well drop it here.
E. In Part II of Chapter Two we’ve argued that when only relatively
few individuals are available from among which to select the “fittest” (in
the Darwinian sense), the process of natural selection will be inefficient in
producing self-propagating systems that are fit for survival. We illustrate
with an example.
The inefficiency of government agencies or enterprises, in compar¬
ison with private enterprises, is notorious, and the reason is clear: Natural
selection is not operative among the agencies or enterprises of a given
government. If a government-owned or government-controlled agency or
enterprise is inefficient—even grossly inefficient—the government tries to
reform it in some way, or simply gives it enough money to keep it from col¬
lapsing. Rarely indeed will a government allow such an agency or enterprise
to die a natural death. In contrast, private enterprises that become inefficient
are (barring government interference) eliminated by natural selection. 45
It seems safe to say that among private enterprises—just as among
biological organisms—natural selection leads to the evolution of sophis¬
ticated mechanisms that promote the vigor of such enterprises— including
mechanisms that are too complex or subtle to be understood, controlled, or even
recognized by human beings. Students of business administration do of course
understand many of the mechanisms at work in successful enterprises.
Clearly, however, they are far from a complete understanding of all such
mechanisms, for if the principles underlying the efficient functioning of
private enterprises were fully understood, then government agencies or
enterprises could be made equally efficient by applying to them the same
principles. Government agencies and enterprises do try to apply the known
principles of business administration, but they nevertheless remain far less
efficient than private enterprises—because a great deal of what makes an
enterprise efficient remains unknown to, or beyond the control of, human
However, even i f natural selection is inoperative among the agencies
or enterprises belonging to a given government, natural selection does
operate on governments and on the nations they govern. For example, when
the countries of the communist bloc failed to compete successfully with
the West, their governments and their economic systems were radically
transformed in imitation of Western governments and economic systems.
The Soviet Union broke apart, and from its fragments new nations under
new governments were born. So why doesn’t natural selection make national
governments, including governmental agencies and enterprises, equal to
private enterprises in vigor and efficiency?
In any capitalist system there are many thousands of business enter¬
prises. New enterprises are continually being formed, while some older
enterprises go bankrupt, or are absorbed by more powerful enterprises,
or are split into two or more separate enterprises. Thus, ample scope for
evolution through natural selection is provided by the number of business
enterprises and the fluidity with which such enterprises are formed or
eliminated. But there are only about two hundred sovereign nations in the
world. The creation of new nations and the demise of old ones are infrequent
events. Likewise infrequent is the replacement of a nation’s government
by a new government of a different type. Thus, among nations and their
governments, there is only relatively limited scope for evolution through
natural selection, and this, we think, explains why governments, with their
agencies and enterprises, have not evolved to the same level of efficiency
as private enterprises have.
F. One of the most serious mistakes that people make in thinking
about the development of societies is to assume that human beings make
collective decisions of their own free will and can impose those decisions
on their society, as if human volition were something existing outside of the
organizational structures of society and capable of acting independently of
those structures. In reality, human volition is to a very significant extent
a product of the organizational structures of society, for one of the most
important factors that determine the success of an organization is its capac¬
ity for people-management, that is, its ability to induce people to think and
act in ways that serve the needs of the organization.
Some techniques of people-management maybe described as “exter¬
nal,” meaning that they are used to influence the thought and behavior of
people who are not members of the organization that applies the techniques.
Appendix Two: Part F
External techniques include, among others, those of propaganda and public
relations. Propaganda and public relations techniques can also be applied
internally, to manage the behavior of the members of the organization that
applies the techniques; and other techniques are designed specifically for
internal use. Business schools give courses in a subject called “Organizational
Behavior,” which is, in part, the study of techniques through which an orga¬
nization can manage the behavior of its own members. 46 Also important
are techniques for selecting individuals who are suited to become members
of a given organization. 47
But we maintain that the people-managing capability of organi¬
zations is not limited to techniques, that is, to methods understood and
consciously applied by human beings. We argue that through natural
selection organizations evolve mechanisms not recognized or understood
by human beings that tend to induce people to act in ways that serve the
needs of the organization. This ties in with what we argued in Part E of
this Appendix, about the operation of natural selection among business
Of course, all these conscious and unconscious mechanisms put
together are very far from achieving complete control over human behav¬
ior. The mechanisms are effective only in a statistical sense: They tend on
average to make people think and act in ways that serve the organizations
that possess the mechanisms, but different individuals are influenced in dif¬
ferent degrees, and there are always exceptional individuals whose thought
and behavior are radically at odds with those that would serve the needs of
the organizations in question.
Nevertheless, organizations’ capabilities for people-management,
whether they are consciously applied techniques or subtly evolved mech¬
anisms unrecognized by humans, are highly important, and people who
make naive statements like, “We [meaning society at large] can choose to
stop damaging our environment”—as if the human race had some sort of
collective free will—are out of touch with practical reality.
A moment ago we said that, through natural selection, organizations
evolve mechanisms not recognized or understood by human beings that
tend to induce people to act in ways that serve the needs of the organization.
Let’s illustrate with an example.
Until recent times, when technological and economic strength
became paramount in warfare, the fighting quality of a society’s soldiers
was an important factor in the process of natural selection among societies.
All else being equal, those societies that produced the best warriors tended
to expand their power at the expense of other societies. It’s unlikely that
military experts would attribute differences in fighting quality solely to
causes that are known and controlled by human beings, such as training
techniques or methods of military organization. Rather, there are cultural
differences among societies—differences that can be identified, if at all,
only on a highly speculative basis—that affect the fighting quality of sol¬
diers. Presumably societies have evolved, through natural selection, cultural
mechanisms that have tended to produce better soldiers.
Warriors of primitive societies, or of societies at a relatively early stage
of civilization, have seldom been able to stand up in pitched battles against
trained and experienced European troops, unless the latter were grossly
outnumbered, taken by surprise, confused by unfamiliar terrain, or other¬
wise placed at a grave disadvantage. 48 This cannot be attributed solely to
the superiority of European weapons, 49 which indeed have not always been
superior under the relevant conditions of combat. Nor can it be attributed to
physical courage; if anything, primitives are probably braver on an individual
basis than Europeans are. 50 The superiority of European troops can best be
attributed to (unidentified) cultural mechanisms evolved through natural
selection in the course of millennia, during which European history has
been characterized by constant warfare. Of course, there has always been
warfare among primitives, too, but such warfare has typically been carried
on primarily through guerrilla-like raids rather than pitched battles. So it’s
not surprising that primitives tend to make excellent guerrilla fighters but
are rarely able to put together a regular army capable of facing Europeans
on equal terms. Societies at an early stage of civilization, like those of
the Aztecs and Incas, ordinarily have had extensive experience of pitched
battles, but perhaps have not been subjected to selection through that type
of warfare for the same length of time or at the same level of intensity as
European societies have; and this maybe the reason why their armies have
been unable to stand up against European ones.
The fighting qualities of soldiers could be argued ad infinitum, but
our interest here is not in fighting qualities per se (nor do we mean to make
any value judgment about such qualities). Our purpose at the moment is
only to illustrate the point that human organizations evolve, through natural
selection, mechanisms that favor their survival and expansion, including
mechanisms that are not understood or recognized by human beings.
Appendix Two: Part G
G. In commenting on an earlier, less complete exposition of the
theory developed in Chapter Two of this book, Dr. Skrbina observed that a
small, isolated island might be considered analogous, for the purposes of the
theory, to the Earth as a whole, and he raised by implication the question of
whether a counterexample to the theory might be found on a small island
without human inhabitants. 51 A proper discussion of this question would
require a good knowledge of the biology of small, isolated islands, which
this writer does not have. Let’s merely take note of the fact that the smaller
the island, the less biodiversity it has. 52 This perhaps makes it doubtful
whether the ecosystem of such an island could be “highly complex” (as
students of industrial accidents use that term); or whether it could be “rich”
enough so that (under Proposition 1 of Chapter Two) new self-propagating
systems would continually arise to challenge the dominant ones.
So much for islands without human inhabitants. It may be worth¬
while, however, to glance briefly at small, isolated islands occupied by
humans at a primitive technological level, ofwhichjared Diamond provides
us with two relevant examples: Easter Island and Tikopia. Easter Island
certainly offers no counterexample to our theory, since its inhabitants did
indeed devastate it as far as was possible with the limited technology at
their disposal. 53 Tikopia, on the other hand, merits a closer look.
Tikopia is so tiny (1.8 square miles 54 ) that a good runner could doubt¬
less go from one end of the island to the other in somewhere between ten
minutes and an hour, depending on the shape of the island, the nature of
the terrain, and the straightness or crookedness of the footpaths. Thus,
sufficiently rapid transportation and communication were possible between
any two parts of Tikopia, and self-prop systems spanning the entire
island—analogous to the global self-prop systems considered in Chapter
Two—could have developed.
It’s impossible to know whether such self-prop systems did in fact
develop on Tikopia in the remote past. What we do know is that in the
course of their first 800 years on the island the original settlers did devas¬
tate Tikopia ecologically, 55 but—probably because they had no advanced
technology—they apparently didn’t devastate it so thoroughly as to cause a
major die-off of the human population. Instead, they were able to support
themselves by adopting new methods of food production. 56 It’s not clear
that their economy could be called stable, since they changed it repeatedly
over the next 2,000 years until significant European intervention occurred
around 1900 AD. But they didn’t suffer economic collapse. 57
The Tikopians moreover seem to have achieved something analogous
to the “world peace” considered in Part II of Chapter Two—though it was
not entirely stable, as we’ll point out in a moment. To the extent that it was
stable, its stability can be attributed to the fact that Tikopian society was
neither highly complex nor tightly coupled, and was not “rich” enough (in
the sense of Proposition 1 of Chapter Two) so that new self-prop systems
would frequently arise to challenge the island’s dominant self-prop systems.
The total population of the island was only about 1,300, 58 and within a
culturally uniform population of that size we wouldn’t necessarily expect
any new, strong, aggressive self-propagating human groups to arise within
any reasonable period of time.
Even so, the Tikopian “world peace” was not so stable as to prevent
all destructive competition: On at least two occasions there were wars in
which entire clans were exterminated. 59 Because the Tikopians fought only
with primitive weapons (bows and arrows, etc.), their wars damaged only
the Tikopians themselves and not their environment. We can imagine what
would have happened if they had had advanced technology to fight their
wars with; most of us have seen photographs of World War I battlefields
ravaged by high-explosive shells, whole forests torn to shreds and so forth.
Of course, it’s highly unlikely that an island the size ofTikopia could have
the mineral resources to sustain an advanced technology. But if it did,
then even nonviolent economic competition—even just mining activities
alone—would have been enough to ruin the island.
Thus the example ofTikopia does not undercut the theory developed
in Chapter Two. Because the islanders lacked advanced technology, and
because their society was neither highly complex nor tightly coupled and
was not “rich” enough to ensure the frequent emergence (under Proposition
1 of Chapter Two) of vigorous new self-prop systems, Tikopia did not satisfy
the conditions for the theory to be applicable.
1. Le Blanc, pp. 73-75.
2. Ibid., p. 75.
3. Ibid., p. 73.
4. NEB (2003), Vol. 21, “International Relations,” p. 829.
5. Ibid. But it’s not clear whether Lenin ever actually made that statement.
See Horowitz, p. 152.
Appendix Two: Notes
6. Alinsky, p. 150.
7. The story is told by Peterson and, less completely, by Utt.
8. Peterson, p. 150 note 6. See also pp. 160-63.
9. Ibid., pp. 151, 167.
10. Ibid., pp. 150-51. Utt, p. 12.
11. NEB (2003), Vol. 21, “International Trade,” pp. 900-03.
12. Ibid., p. 905 (“There is general agreement that no modern nation...
could really practice self-sufficiency...”).
13. Ibid. See also “Relying on China is a big mistake,” The Week, Oct. 22,
2010, p. 18.
14. See “How supply chains hinge on Asia,” The Week, Nov. 11,2011, p. 42.
15. NEB (2003), Vol. 20, “Germany,” p. 115; Vol. 21, “International
Relations,” p. 814; Vol. 29, “War, Theory and Conduct of,” p. 652, and “World
Wars,” pp. 963, 969, 976, 986.
16. Ibid., Vol. 29, “World Wars,” pp. 963, 969-970, 976, 977, 979-980,
17. GMO Quarterly Letter, April 2011, p. 18. Since GMO is a large invest¬
ment firm, it is hardly likely to have leftist or radical-environmentalist leanings.
18. Boorstin, pp. 105,120,163,193,260,261,263-65. W.S. Randall, pp.
19. Zimmermann, pp. 266-67. This doesn’t necessarily mean that European
mining methods were more environmentally sound than American ones.
20. Presumably China is not considered a “developed country.” Cf. note
17. China’s environmental irresponsibility is so well known that it doesn’t seem
necessary to cite any authority, but as examples we mention “The cracks in China’s
engine,” The Week, Oct. 8, 2010, p. 15; Bradsher, p. A8; USA Today, Feb. 25,
21. Pirenne, e.g., pp. 166-173, 194-95, 236. Elias, pp. 224, 229.
22. Mote, pp. 17-18, 646-653.
23. NEB (2003), Vol. 16, “China,” p. 106. Mote, p. 359. For roads, bridges,
postal relays, and transport systems under the Ming and the Qing (Ch’ing) dynas¬
ties, see Mote, pp. 620-21, 647, 714, 749, 903, 917, 946.
24. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “War, Technology of,” p. 622. See also Mote,
25. Malpass, pp. 68-69.
26. See Diamond, pp. 164-66.
27. See Davies, p. 200.
28. Ibid., p. 220, map. According to the map the straight-line distance from
the capital, Tenochtitlan, to Soconusco (city) was just a hair over 500 miles, though
Davies, p. 190, says it was 600 miles. Note that the location of Tenochtitlan was
essentially the same as that of the later Mexico City. Ibid., p. 9, map. Merriam-
Webster Dictionary (2004), p. 933, “Tenochtitlan.”
29. Davies, pp. 46,110-14,128,199-201, 218, 219.
30. Ibid., pp. 183-84, 191, 199-200, 207.
31. Ibid., pp. 107, 110, 112, 128, 201, 204-05, 207, 221. It should be
remembered, however, that all Aztec history prior to the arrival of the Spaniards
is based on sources of very doubtful reliability. See ibid., p. xiv.
32. NEB (2003), Vol. 20, “Greek and Roman Civilizations,” p. 300.
33. Bazant, p. 43.
34. NEB (2003), Vol. 29, “United States of America,” pp. 216-17. See
also McCullough, pp. 397-98. Adams wrote his comment about the need for an
external enemy in the margin of a book he was reading. Haraszti, p. 149. From
ibid., pp. 140-42, it can be inferred that Adams probably wrote the comment in
1784 and certainly wrote it before Franklin’s death in 1790.
35. Jenkins, pp. 748-750.
36. E.g., Sodhi, Brook &, Bradshaw, p. 516; Weise, “Invasive Species,” p.
4A. Examples: Pythons in Florida. The Week , Feb. 17, 2012, p. 23. Kudzu vine
in eastern U.S., quagga mussels in Lake Michigan. Invasive species are “a nasty
side effect of modern transportation technology,” by means of which exotic species
are intentionally or unintentionally brought into new environments. “Nature’s
marauders,” The Week, Dec. 10,2010, p. 15. Attempts to control invasive species by
introducing nonnative predators tend to backfire because the predators themselves
are likely to get out of control. Hamilton, p. 58.
37. “Since the mid-1970s, more than 30 new diseases have emerged... .
Most of these are believed to have moved from wildlife to human populations. ...
Damaged ecosystems—characterized by toxins, degradation of habitat, removal
of species and climate change—create conditions for pathogens to move in ways
they wouldn’t normally move.” “Tracking Disease,” Newsweek , Nov. 14, 2005, p.
46. Once a disease has crossed over to humans from some other species, modern
transportation technology, population density, and urbanization make it possible
for the disease to spread widely. Quammen, p. 102. “AIDS in the 19th Century?,”
The Week, Oct. 17, 2008, p. 24. New diseases often are mutated forms of earlier
ones. E.g., ibid.; “Mutant rabies is spreading,” ibid., May 22, 2009, p. 19.
38. E.g.: Allan, p. 34. The Economist, April 2, 2011, pp. 73-75. USA Today,
Oct. 28, 2013, p. 10A; Dec. 17, 2013, pp. 1A-2A; March 5, 2014, p. 6B.
39. E.g., “Experimental Cotton Seed in Accidental Mix,” Denver Post,
Dec. 4, 2008, p. 13A. See also ibid., Aug. 23, 2005, p. 2B (“Genetically modified
wheat pollen can drift to other plants more easily than scientists believed, passing
genes to... weeds... .”).
40. E.g., “Labs suspected in British cow-disease outbreak,” Denver Post,
Aug. 8, 2007, p. 14A. Chronic Wasting Disease, similar to mad-cow disease,
“was first detected in western North American deer and elk in the 1970s, possibly
(some people suggest) because deer housed for studies at a western university in a
Appendix Two: Notes
pen near scrapie-infected sheep were released into the wild... Diamond, p. 54.
Due to inadequate record-keeping, a U.S. Army research laboratory seemed to
have lost 9,200 vials of “deadly germs and toxins.” Denver Post, April 23, 2009,
p. 9A. The vials were eventually found, ibid., June 18, 2009, p. 13A, but sloppy
record-keeping at such a laboratory is not encouraging.
41. Blau, especially pp. 16-18. NEB (2003), Vol. 2, “bee,” p. 42. Cf.
Kaczynski, p. 310.
42. Weise, “DIY Biopunks,” p. 7A.
43. Joy, pp. 246-48. Keiper, pp. 27-28. See also “A molecular motor,” The
Week, Sept. 23, 2011, p. 23 (reporting nano-sized “motor”).
44. Robots of the future “should be able to self-replicate.” “What are the
odds?,” The Week, July 2-9, 2010, p. 45 (summarizing an article from Scientific
American, June 2010).
45. Compare Steele, pp. 87-88.
46. See, e.g., Bowditch, Buono 8c Stewart.
47. Peck, pp. 74-84.
48. E.g., Davies, pp. 249-250, 271 (military superiority of Spaniards over
Aztecs). Ibid., p. 252 (“It was only... by bombarding [the Spaniards] from the
rooftops in Tenochtitlan, or from above the deep ravines in Peru, that the Indians
were able to achieve a measure of success.”).
49. E.g., the North American Indians “could not stand up against a bayonet
charge,” Wissler, p. 93, even though bayonets would have been no more effec¬
tive than the spears of primitives. Davies, pp. 250-51, discusses the reasons for
the Spaniards’ military superiority over the Aztecs, including their purportedly
superior weapons, and then concludes on p. 252: “The psychological superiority
of the Spaniards in the battle-field was probably more decisive than any other
factor... . Face to face, the Indians were simply not a match for the Spaniards... .”
50. E.g., Davies, p. 250 (Spanish chroniclers insisted on the bravery of the
Aztecs); p. 277 (referring to “many feats of individual bravery” by Aztecs against
Spaniards). Turnbull, Change and Adaptation, pp. 89-90, 92, describes traditional
Africans’ contempt for the cowardice of Europeans.
51. Letter from David Skrbina to the author, Aug. 10, 2011.
52. Edward O. Wilson has “offered a formula that mathematically predicts
a geometric reduction in the biodiversity of a given habitat as the size of the habitat
shrinks.” French, p. 72.
53. Diamond, pp. 79-119.
54. Ibid., p. 286.
55. Ibid., p. 292.
58. Ibid., p. 289.
59. Ibid., p. 291.
Stay on Target
What follows is a heavily rewritten excerpt from a letter to the Editor-
in-Chief of the John Jay Sentinel, a student newspaper at the John Jay College
of Criminal Justice. In its original form the letter was published in the
March 2011 and April 2011 issues of the Sentinel. The editor had correctly
pointed out that economic competition under capitalism encouraged the
development of technology, and he asked me whether it would therefore
be worthwhile to spend time and effort on eliminating capitalism. Here
is my answer:
Those of us who believe that the technological system is an evil are
often tempted to attack some of the subordinate evils that are associated
with it, such as capitalism, globalization, centralization, bureaucracy, big,
intrusive governments, environmental recklessness, and gross economic
inequality. This temptation should be resisted. One may, of course, use
evils like those I’ve listed as tools to attack the technological system by
pointing out that similar evils inevitably accompany any such system. But
it is inadvisable to attack any of the subordinate evils independently of an
attack on the technological system as a whole.
What makes the subordinate evils tempting targets for attack is that
there already are substantial numbers of people who strongly resent them
and could be rallied to resist them; and if any of these evils could be elim¬
inated, the growth of the technological system would be retarded and its
negative consequences somewhat mitigated. Capitalism, for instance, is at
present the economic system that is most conducive to technological devel¬
opment, so if you could get rid of capitalism you would to some extent slow
technological progress; in addition, you would reduce economic inequal¬
ity. Globalization contributes to economic and technological efficiency
because there are obvious advantages to a system in which natural, human,
and technical resources can be freely transferred from any one part of the
world to any other part where they may be needed. So if you could do
away with globalization and isolate each region of the world economically
from all the others, technological progress would be significantly slowed.
Centralization too is important to technological progress. For example, in
order to keep the U.S. economy functioning properly there has to be some
central authority to regulate banking, print money, and so forth, otherwise
the U.S. would experience the same difficulties as did Germany prior to
its unification, when much of the country was still divided into numerous
small, independent states, each with its own banking regulations, its own
currency, its own weights and measures, etc. 1
As many petty states as there were, ... so many were the differ¬
ent civil and criminal codes, so many the different kinds of coins
and banknotes, so many the different military, financial, and
transportation-related institutions. ...The citizen ofWiirttemberg
needed a passport to travel to Baden. For a stay in Koburg-Gotha,
Braunschweig, or Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, the citizen of Baden
needed to exchange his money. 2
For normal economic development, the financial and commercial
regulation of Germany had to undergo a centralizing process that spanned
most of the 19th century. 3 If centralization could somehow be reversed in
Germany—or in the U.S. or any other country—economic growth and
technological progress there would be significantly impeded.
So why not attack centralization? First, it would be exceedingly dif¬
ficult to attack centralization successfully. An organization or a movement
would have to concentrate all its energy on that attack, and even if it suc¬
ceeded in substantially reducing centralization the result would be only to
slow technological progress to a certain extent; neither the technological
system nor the principal evils associated with it would be eliminated. Thus,
in attacking centralization the movement would use its resources ineffi¬
ciently: It would expend vast energy in the hope of only a modest gain.
Worse still, by concentrating its energy on the campaign against
centralization, the movement would distract attention (its own and other
people’s) from the most important target, which is the technological system
In any case, an attack on centralization could not be successful. Of
course, there is no special difficulty about decentralizing in situations where
centralization has proven to be economically inefficient. E.g., excessive cen¬
tralized control over economic activity, otherwise known as socialism, has
largely died out due to its inefficiency. But where centralization promotes
efficiency, its prevalence is guaranteed by a process of natural selection. 4
Systems that are more centralized (in aspects in which centralization
contributes to efficiency) thrive better than those systems that are less
centralized; hence, the former tend to expand at the expense of the latter.
Since inefficiency imposes economic and other hardships on people, most
will oppose decentralization. Even the majority of those who now hold a
negative view of centralization would oppose decentralization when they
found out what it cost them in terms of efficiency. For example, if you
wanted to let each state of the Union establish its own monetary policy and
print its own currency independently of all the other states, your proposal
would be dismissed as ridiculous. Even if you somehow succeeded in putting
such a measure into effect, the negative consequences—monetary chaos
and so forth—would outrage so many people that centralized control in
monetary matters would soon be reinstated.
Needless to say, if future developments should ever make centralized
systems economically and technologically inefficient in comparison with
less centralized ones, then it will be relatively easy to decentralize. But in
that event your attack on centralization will be promoting technological
progress rather than retarding it. In either case, attacking centralization is
not an effective way of resisting technological progress.
Arguments very similar to the foregoing apply to any effort to elim¬
inate capitalism. To have any hope of eliminating capitalism a movement
would have to concentrate all its energy on that task, and even if it suc¬
ceeded in eliminating capitalism the gain would be very modest, because
technological progress would continue, though at a somewhat slower rate.
There was no capitalism in the Soviet Union, for example, yet that country
was by no means a negligible force technologically. Even before World War
II the Soviets were among the leaders in nuclear physics; 5 their MiG 15
jet fighter shocked Western forces in the Korean War with its speed and
agility; 6 the Soviets were the first to develop a really successful jet airliner,
the Tu-104; 7 and the Soviet Union was the first nation to put an artificial
satellite into orbit. 8
Thus, an antitechnological movement that focused on the elimina¬
tion of capitalism would gain little in return for an enormous expenditure
of energy. What is worse, by focusing on capitalism the movement would
distract its own and other people’s attention from the far more important
objective of bringing down the technological system itself.
An attack on capitalism moreover would be futile, or would be suc¬
cessful only temporarily and in a few countries at most. Capitalism has
become the world’s dominant economic system through a process of nat¬
ural selection; it has replaced other systems because under present-day
conditions capitalism is economically and technologically more efficient.
For this reason, even if you could get rid of capitalism in some countries,
these would tend strongly to revert to capitalist economic structures as the
relative inefficiency of their non-capitalist systems became apparent. This
has been demonstrated through experience: When the socialist countries
of Eastern Europe couldn’t keep up with the West economically or tech¬
nologically, they adopted capitalist systems. Sweden once was ideologically
socialist, but in practical terms socialism never got very far in that country.
Today Sweden is still a capitalist welfare-state—and is becoming less of a
welfare state as it reduces benefits in the interest of economic efficiency. 9
China remains nominally socialist, but for the sake of economic success
the Chinese government now allows a great deal of private enterprise, i.e.,
capitalism. 10 In Nicaragua the Sandinistas still pretend to be socialist, but
in reality they are turning to capitalism. 11 This writer knows of only two
countries left in the world that are free of capitalism: Cuba and North
Korea. No one wants to imitate Cuba or North Korea, because they are
economic failures. And that’s why Cuba is now (2011) taking some timid
steps in the direction of capitalism. 12
So it’s clear that as long as we live in a technological world we will
never get rid of capitalism unless and until it is superseded by some system
that is economically and technologically more efficient.
The arguments I’ve outlined here in reference to centralization and
capitalism are equally applicable to globalization, bureaucracy, big, intrusive
governments, environmental recklessness, and any number of other evils
the elimination of which would merely impair the efficiency of the techno¬
logical system while still permitting it to grow. As long as society remains
saturated with the values of the technological system, most people will not
accept any measures that seriously impede the functioning of that system. In
order to get people to accept such measures, you would first have to convince
them that the supposed “benefits” of modern technology are not worth the
price that has to be paid for them. Thus, your ideological attack must be
focused on modern technology itself. An attempt to eliminate capitalism,
globalization, centralization or any other subordinate evil can only distract
attention from the need to eliminate the entire technological system.
Appendix Three: Notes
1. Dorpalen, p. 167. Zimmermann, pp. 8-9. NEB (2003), Vol. 20,
“Germany,” pp. 106, 111, 113. By “unification” we mean not merely the foundation
of the German Empire in 1871, but a process that arguably lasted as long as 93
years, from the changes imposed by the French conquerors in 1807 (ibid., p. 102)
to the promulgation of a uniform civil code for the Empire in 1900 (Zimmermann,
2. Zimmermann, p.8, quoting one “Lowenthal” without any further indi¬
cation of the source.
3. See note 1, above, and Tipton (entire article). Tipton argues that historians
err when they identify a particular date, e.g., 1834 (creation of the Zollverein—
the customs union) or 1871 (foundation of the German Empire), as the point at
which German economic development “took off”: Quantitative data show that
German economic development throughout the period in question was a smoothly
continuous process in which no “take-off’ points are apparent.
But in places (e.g., pp. 222-23) Tipton seems to argue that centralizing
events like the creation of the Zollverein or the foundation of the Empire were
unimportant for Germany’s economic development. If this is what he means, then
his argument has to rest on the assumption that such events could not have been
economically important unless they were signaled by an immediate change in
the rate of economic growth. And that assumption is clearly unjustified. Among
other things, as Tipton himself points out, the changes in economic regulation
brought about by the Zollverein and the Empire were developed only over a span
of decades: The Zollverein was not fully implemented until 1857 (Tipton, pp.
201, 209), while the economically relevant legislation of the Empire was enacted
piecemeal and was not completed until 1897 or even perhaps 1900 (Zimmermann,
p. 9; Tipton, p. 209). Moreover, realization of the economic consequences of the
changes in regulation required certain developments, such as the construction of
railroads (Tipton, pp. 200-01, 205), that could not occur overnight.
Thus, the absence of quantitatively identifiable “take-off’ points provides
no evidence that the centralization of economic regulation was unimportant for
economic growth. Tipton himself notes that “[fjree movement of resources is
important for development” (p. 198), and that “[fjactors of production will be
more mobile... in an area without internal tariffs, separate monetary systems, or
variations in commercial regulations” (p. 200), from which it logically follows that
centralized economic regulation is important for economic development.
4. See Chapter Two of this book.
5. NEB (2003), Vol. 21, “International Relations,” p. 858.
6. Ibid., Vol. 8, “MiG,” p. 117. See also Air & Space, Oct./Nov. 2013, p. 80.
7. Woodall, p. 4. Mellow, pp. 61, 65.
8. NEB (2003), Vol. 19, “Exploration,” pp. 47-48.
9. The Economist, June 11, 2011, p. 58.
10. The private sector is the most vigorous part of China’s economy. The
Economist, March 12,2011, pp. 79-80, and June 25,2011, p. 14 of Special Report
(“the dynamism in China’s economy is mostly generated by non-state firms”).
It’s true that massive government intervention has played an important role in
building up China’s economy, but this has been only a temporary stage that is
characteristic of backward countries that are straining to catch up with the fully
developed industrial nations. See NEB (2003), Vol. 24, “Modernization and
Industrialization,” p. 288. In all probability, government intervention in China’s
economy will become less and less conducive to economic vigor as that country
moves beyond the “catch-up” phase.
11. The Economist, Aug. 27, 2011, p. 33; Nov. 5, 2011, pp. 47-48.
12. The Week, April 29, 2011, p. 8. USA Today, May 10, 2011, p. 6A.
The Long-Term Outcome
In 2009, a correspondent asked me whether I thought nuclear weap¬
ons were the most dangerous aspect of modern technology. What follows
is my reply, heavily rewritten.
The most dangerous aspect of modern technology probably is not
nuclear weapons. It could plausibly be argued that the remedies for global
warming that are likely to be adopted constitute the most dangerous aspect
of modern technology.
Nations have a strong incentive to avoid using nuclear weapons, at
least on any large scale, because such use would probably be suicidal. This
doesn’t mean that nuclear war can never happen. On the contrary, the risk
of it is very real. But a major nuclear war at least is not a strong probability
for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, it is virtually certain that nations will fail to
reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide sufficiently and in time to pre¬
vent global warming from becoming disastrous. Instead, global warming
will be kept in check through “geo-engineering.” This means that the
Earth’s climate will be artificially managed to keep it within acceptable
limits. 1 Of the many tools that have been proposed for management of the
Earth’s climate, three examples maybe mentioned here: (i) Powdered iron
can be dumped into the oceans to stimulate the growth of plankton that
will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 2 (ii) Microbes or other
organisms may be genetically engineered to consume atmospheric carbon
dioxide. 3 (iii) Carbon dioxide maybe pumped into underground reservoirs
for permanent storage there. 4
Any attempt at geo-engineering will entail a grave risk of immedi¬
ate catastrophe. “Geo-engineering makes the problem of ballistic-missile
defense look easy. It has to work the first time, and just right.” 5 Novel
technological solutions usually have to be corrected repeatedly through trial
and error; rarely do they work “the first time, and just right,” and that’s why
people “quite rightly see [geo-engineering] as a scary thing.” 6
But let’s assume that geo-engineering does work the first time and
just right. Even so, there is every reason to expect that the longer-term
consequences will be catastrophic.
First: Attempts to meddle with the environment almost always have
unforeseen, undesirable consequences. In order to correct the undesirable
consequences, further meddling with the environment is required. This
in turn has other unforeseen consequences... and so forth. In trying to
solve our problems by tinkering with the environment we just get ourselves
deeper and deeper into trouble.
Second: For hundreds of millions of years, natural processes have
kept the Earth’s climate and the composition of its atmosphere within
limits that have allowed the survival and evolution of complex forms of
life. Sometimes during this period the climate has varied enough to cause
the extinction of numerous species, but it has not become so extreme as to
wipe out all of the most complex organisms.
When human beings have taken over the management of the Earth’s
climate, the natural processes that have kept the climate within livable limits
will lose their capacity to perform that function. The climate will then be
entirely dependent on human management. Since the Earth’s climate is a
worldwide phenomenon, it cannot be managed by independent local groups;
its management will have to be organized on a worldwide basis and there¬
fore will require rapid, worldwide communication. For this reason among
others, management of the Earth’s climate will be dependent on techno¬
logical civilization. Every past civilization has broken down eventually, and
modern technological civilization likewise will break down sooner or later.
When that happens, the system of human climate-management necessarily
will break down too. Because the natural processes that kept the climate
within certain limits will be defunct, the Earth’s climate can be expected
to go haywire. In all probability the Earth will become too hot or too cold
for the survival of complex life-forms, or the percentage of oxygen in the
atmosphere will sink too low, or the atmosphere will become contaminated
with toxic gasses, or some other atmospheric disaster will occur.
Third: When the Earth has a managed climate, maintenance of the
technological system will be considered essential for survival because, as
has just been pointed out, the breakdown of the technological system will
probably lead to radical and fatal disruption of the climate. The elimination
of the technological system, through revolution or by any other means,
Appendix Four: Notes
would be almost equivalent to suicide. Because the system will be seen as
indispensable for survival, it will be virtually immune to challenge.
The elite of our society—the scientists and engineers, the corpora¬
tion executives, the government officials and the politicians—are afraid
of nuclear war because it would lead to their own destruction. But they
will be delighted to see the system that gives them their power and their
status become indispensable and therefore immune to any serious challenge.
Consequently, while they will make every effort to avoid nuclear war, they
will be quite pleased to undertake management of the Earth’s climate.
1. See, e.g., Time, March 24, 2008, p. 50.
2. Wood, p. 73, col. 2.
3. Leslie, p. 6, col. 4 (microbes). Wood, p. 73, col. 1 (trees).
4. Wood, p. 73, col. 2. Sarewitz & Pielke, p.59, col. 3. It necessarily remains
an open question whether the carbon dioxide will remain underground as long as
the proponents of this plan believe. Even if a “demonstration project” (ibid.) keeps
the C0 2 underground for as long as, say, ten years, that doesn’t guarantee that it
will stay there for a hundred or a thousand years. Moreover, any demonstration
project will be carried out with special care by highly qualified experts. But once
the procedure becomes routine and is widely applied, there inevitably will be
negligence, incompetence, and dishonesty in its execution. Compare Kaczynski,
pp. 315, 417-18.
5. Wood, p. 76, col. 1, quoting Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geophysicist at
the University of Chicago.
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Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed
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Abdullah II (king of Jordan), 37(n73)
Absolutism, Age of, 22
Adams, John, 197, 206(n34)
Africa, 109, 110, 130(nnl02, 103),
African National Congress (ANC),
African pygmies, 158
Alfred the Great (Saxon king), 162,
Alinsky, Saul D., 76(nl5), 150, 151, 159,
167,171, 176(nn8,13), 178(n44),
180(n76), 181(nn78, 81, 89),
183(nll2), 193, 205(n6)
A1 Qaeda, 53, 57
ANC. See African National Congress
anti-apartheid movement, 169, 173
apocalyptic cults, 74, 88(nl40)
arsenic, 60, 66, 80(n58)
artificial intelligence, 71, 72,
84-85(nll9), 86(nl23), 187
Athens, ancient, 10
Atmosphere, 55, 58, 64, 65, 66, 82(nn80,
81, 83, 87), 83(nl05), 215, 216
atomic bomb, 12. See also nuclear war
Atoms for Peace, 11, 12
Austria, 23, 37(n74)
Aztecs, 196, 202, 206(n31), 207
Bacon, Francis, 87(nl33)
Bannockburn, Battle of, 163
Batista, Fulgencio, 145, 146,179(n55)
Biosphere, 55, 56, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68,
82(nn80, 81, 82, 83), 86(nl26)
Bismarck, Otto von, 10, 12, 34(nl4)
Bohr, Neils, 12
Bolivar, Simon, 8,15, 34(n7), 142,
Bolshevik, 98,108, 112, 114,116, 136,
137, 146, 147,151, 152,154,158,
71), 182(nnl02,107), 183(nnl08,
Bonaparte, Napoleon, 90, 91, 99, 117, 143
Britain, 93, 104,105,106, 107,110,112,
Brook Farm, 114, 131(nl23)
Bruce, Robert, 162, 163,166,184(nl53)
bureaucracy, 52, 77(n26), 129-130(n99),
butterfly effect, 14
cadmium, 61, 66, 83(n97)
Caesar, Gaius Julius, 20, 36-37(n48)
Calvin, John, 108, 119,129(n98)
capitalism, 85(nl20), 193, 200, 209, 211,
212. See also corporations; private
carbon dioxide (C0 2 ), 49, 56, 64, 65, 66,
67, 82(n81), 215, 217(n4)
Cardenas, Lazaro, 117, 132(nl36)
Carrillo, Santiago, 36(n44), 77(n27),
Castro, Fidel, 27, 28, 39(nl01), 95,112,
166,169, 176(n6), 179(nn53-56),
Castro, Raul, 165
Catholic Emancipation (Ireland), 103,
centralization and decentralization,
101, 120, 122, 123,209,210,211,
chaos, 14,15, 16, 17, 31, 35(n31)
Che-tsung (Chinese emperor). See
China, 21, 22, 62, 81(n75), 96, 99,100,
114,127(n39), 148,195, 205(nnl3,
20,23), 212, 214(nl0). See also
Revolution, Chinese, of 1911, and
Ch’ing (Chinese dynasty). See Qing
Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, 196
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), 66, 83(nl01)
Christ. Srejesus Christ
Christianity, 74, 87(nl35), 87-88(nl38),
94, 95, 98, 126(nnl4, 15, 17-19), 139
Churchill, Winston, 84(nll4), 128(n68),
151, 177(n28), 197
civil war, Russian: 147, 165, 180(n71);
Spanish: 26; U.S.: 151
Clausewitz, Carl von, 90, 91
Collins, Michael, 112, 115, 116,169
commons, problem or tragedy of, 19,
Communism and Communist Parties,
36(n44), 99,100,108, 114,116,
127(n39), 129-130(n99), 131(nl20),
141,145, 163,166, 171,173,
183(nll5). See also Bolshevik
copper, 60, 80(n58)
Corday, Charlotte, 139, 177(n24)
corporations, 28, 42, 52, 57, 70, 77(n25).
See also capitalism; private enterprise
coupling. See tight coupling
Cretaceous, 58, 68
Cuba, 27, 28, 38(nl00), 39(nl08), 141,
145, 146, 212. See also Castro, Fidel;
Revolution, Cuban, of 1959
cyanide, 79(n52), 83(n98)
cyborgs. See man-machine hybrids
Darwinism, Social. See Social Darwinism
decentralization. See centralization and
decoupling, 49, 50
deep ecology, 122, 123, 124,133(nl57)
De Gaulle. See Gaulle, Charles de
De Klerk. See Klerk, F.W. de
De Valera. See Valera, Eamon de
democracy and democratization, 10, 29,
52, 93, 106, 109, 110, 111, 116, 117,
129(n99), 130(nl00), 151,152,157,
Depression, The Great (1930s), 29,143,
Douglas, William O., 77(n26)
drones, 174, 186(nl85)
drug cartels and gangs, 51, 53, 77(n21),
101, 102, 130(nl05)
Earth, planet, 47,48, 55, 58, 64, 65, 66,
67, 68, 82(nn81, 87), 125, 203, 215,
Easter Island, 203
EATR (war machine), 63
economics, science of, 7, 13, 26,27,28,
Edington, Battle of, 162
Edward I (English king), 162
Egypt, ancient, 195
Egypt, modern, 52, 77-78(n28), 144, 175,
' 178(n49), 186(nl89)
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 11, 20, 35(nl9)
Ellul, Jacques, 1
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 41, 75(n2)
empires, pre-industrial, 46, 195, 196
Engels, Friedrich, 18, 21, 28, 36(n44),
126(n21), 145, 178(n51)
England, 93, 102,104,117, 131(nl26),
environmentalism and environmentalists,
Europe, 22, 23, 35-36(n43), 39(nll3),
71,104,106,109, 111, 139,148,
177(n28), 179(n58), 195, 202, 212
evolution, biological, 28, 48,53, 59, 70,
73, 75—76(n8), 86(nnl26,127),
evolution, of human organizations,
28, 31, Chapter Two, Part II
(throughout), Appendix Two, Parts
E, F (throughout)
evolution, in general, 42-45, 72 , 73, 199
extinction (of species), 58, 68, 73,
Fannie Mae, 194
Fascism, Italian, 127(n28)
feminism, 97,102, 108, 110, 114,117,
127(n26), 128(nn55, 57), 132(nl39)
Fermi Paradox, 55
flexibility, 137, 138, 176(nl7)
fossil fuels, 62, 65, 83(n92). See also
petroleum extraction and industry
Fox, Vicente, 101
fracking (hydraulic fracturing), 61
France, 22, 106, 111, 140. Seealso
Franco, Francisco, 26, 27, 38(n91)
Franklin, Benjamin, 50, 189, 206(n34)
Freddie Mac, 194
Gambia, The, 110
Gaulle, Charles de, 140, 178(nn35, 39)
genetic engineering, 66, 215
Genghis Khan. See Chinggis Khan
geo-engineering, 66, 215, 216
George. See Lloyd George
Germany, 10, 23, 34(nnl3, 14), 38(n78),
96,131(nnll4, 116, 117), 139,143,
163, 169,176(n7), 177(n28), 195,
197, 205(nl5), 210, 213(nnl, 3)
Gladstone, William E., 105
Glendinning, Chellis, 32, 39(nll7),
119,120, 121, 122,124,132(nl51),
globalization, 149, 209, 212
global self-prop(agating) systems, 47-55,
global warming, 64, 65, 66, 67,
80-81(n63), 81(n73), 215. See also
gold, 60, 79-80(nn51, 52, 53)
Gortari. See Salinas de Gortari
Grant, Ulysses S., 151
Greece, modern, 144
green energy, 62, 63
greenhouse effect. See carbon dioxide;
Green Revolution. See Revolution, Green
Griffith, Arthur, 131-132(nl32)
Guevara, Ernesto “Che”, 169, 185(nl68)
Hitler, Adolf, 10, 23, 24, 29, 99,
127(n36), 136, 143, 176(n7)
housing bubble, 194
Hoyle, Fred, 133(nl62)
Huizong (Hui-tsung, Chinese emperor),
hunter-gatherers, 42, 45, 70, 76(n9). See
also African pygmies
Hus, Jan, 113
hydraulic fracturing. See fracking
Illich, Ivan, 1, 32, 39(nll5), 124
immortality, 69, 70, 72, 74, 84(nll6),
85(nl21), 86-87(nnl29, 131),
Inca empire, 196, 202, 207(n48)
India, 77(n28), 83(n97), 148
informers. See spies and informers
Institutional Revolutionary Party,
127(n34), 132(nl36). See also Partido
international trade, 27, 28, 194, 195,
invasive species, 83(nl02), 197, 206(n36)
IRA. See Irish Republican Army
Iran, 12, 153
Ireland, 103-108, 110-112, 115,116,118,
119, 143,166,169, 179(n52). See also
Irish Republican Army (IRA), 118,
iron, 60, 79-80(n52)
Islam, 98, 99, 127(n32), 139
Italy, 8, 34(n6), 127(n28)
Japan, 39(nl08), 143, 177(n28)
Jefferson, Thomas, v, vii, 93, 100
Jesus Christ, 87-88(nnl35, 138), 94, 95,
Johnson, Lyndon B., 9
Joseph II (Austrian emperor), 23
July Days (Russia, 1917), 151, 164, 165
Kaplan, Fanny or Franya, 139
Kenya, 51, 77(n21), 110, 111, 130(nl05)
Kerensky, Aleksandr, 147
Keynes, John Maynard, 84(nll4)
Khan. See Chinggis Khan
killer bees, 198
Kissinger, Henry A., 12
Klein, Naomi, 33, 40(nnl27-139)
Klerk, F.W. de, 20, 37(n51)
Kurzweil, Ray, 39(nll4), 55, 63, 68,
73, 74, 78(nn32,33), 81(n76),
83-85(nnl07, 108, 111, 112,113,
119), 86(nnl23, 124,125,128, 130),
87(nnl32,134, 135,137), 187, 191,
192(nnl, 7), 198
Latin America, 100, 109, 110, 148.
See also South America; Spanish
lead, 60, 66
Lenin, Vladimir Ilich, 30, 88(nl39), 91,
95, 98, 112,114,129-130(n99), 136,
161, 164, 166, 170,176(nnl0,
13), 177(n23), 179-180(nn59, 60,
67), 181(nn90, 97), 182(nl07),
183(nnl08, 109,115), 184(nnl38,
158), 185(nl74), 193, 204(n5)
Lincoln, Abraham, 20, 37(n50), 151
Lloyd George, David, 29
Lorenz, Edward, 13,14, 35(n29)
Louis XIV (French king), 22, 23
Luther, Martin, 112, 113
Manchu (Chinese dynasty). See Qing
Mandela, Nelson, 20, 37(n51), 98, 157,
man-machine hybrids (cyborgs), 69, 72,
73, 86(nl24), 187, 188
Mao Zedong (Tsetung), 89, 90, 95, 112,
114,124,125(nl), 131(nl22), 137,
20), 181(n95), 183(nnl20, 121),
Marat, Jean-Paul, 139
Martov, Yuli, 181(n90)
Marx, Karl, and Marxism, 74, 88(nl39),
95, 112, 126(nn20, 21), 137,145,
159, 160, 178(n51)
Maya, 75(n7), 196
Menshevik, 146, 151, 158, 182(nl07)
mercury, 61, 66, 79-80(nn52, 53),
methane, 61, 65, 82(n87)
Mexico, 34(nl8), 51, 100, 101, 102, 103,
127(n34), 128(n51), 132(nl36), 197.
See also Revolution, Mexican, of
military, 5(n2), 52, 63, 77-78(n28), 90,
101,140,175,188, 202, 207(nn48,
millenarian cults, 74, 88(nnl40, 141)
Ming (Chinese dynasty), 205(n23)
mining, 60-61, 79-80(nn51, 52, 53), 195,
Mohammed (The Prophet), 96, 98
Moltke, Helmuth von, the elder, 176(nl7)
Mongol Empire, 196
Moore’s Law, 15, 16, 35(n36), 191
More, Thomas, 33
Murphy, Audie, 140,177-178(nn30, 31)
Mussolini, Benito, 29
Myanmar, 153, 181(n87)
Naess, Arne, 32, 39(nll6), 122, 123, 124,
nanotechnology, 83-84(nl07), 87(nl37),
Napoleon. See Bonaparte
natural selection, 28, 31, Chapter Two,
Parts I, II, III, and V (throughout),
Nazis, 24, 38(n78), 96, 99,140,143,
178(n36), 182(nl02). See also
neodymium, 60, 62, 80(n56)
Netherlands, The, 106
North America, 46
Northern Ireland, 118, 129(n89), 141
North Korea, 153, 212
nuclear energy, 12, 50, 60, 62, 64,
76(nll), 81(n67), 101, 128(n51)
nuclear fusion, 81(n73)
nuclear war and weapons, 12, 49, 56, 60,
80-81(n63), 153,181(nn87, 88), 215,
nuclear waste. See radioactive waste
O’Connell, Daniel, 103, 104, 115,
oil spills, 66, 83(n99)
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 12
organized crime, 11, 34(nl5), 51,
76-77(nl9). See also drug cartels and
oxygen (including ozone), 64, 65, 66,
Pakistan, 11, 34(nl8), 52, 77-78(n28),
PAN. See Partido de Accion Nacional
paradoxes, 16-17, 35(n38), 55
Parnell, Charles Stewart, 105
Partido de Accion Nacional (PAN), 101
Partido Revolucionario Institucional
(PRI), 101. See also Institutional
Paul, Saint, 87(nl35)
petroleum extraction and industry, 61, 65,
philosopher-king, 29-31, 39(nl09),
Plato, 33, 39(nl09), 40(nl25)
Potato Famine, The Great (Ireland), 104
presidency, U.S., 20. See also Adams;
Eisenhower; Jefferson; Johnson;
Lincoln; Roosevelt; Truman;
PRI. See Partido Revolucionario
private enterprise, 199, 200. See also
problem of the commons. See commons,
problem or tragedy of
Prohibition (of alcoholic drinks), 10-11,
proletariat, 74, 88(nl39), 129-130(n99)
Putin, Vladimir, 109, 130(nl00)
pygmies. See African pygmies
Qing (Ch’ing or Manchu, Chinese
dynasty), 143, 205(n23)
radioactive waste, 12, 35(n24), 60, 62,
81(nn64, 65, 75)
rare earths, 60, 64, 80(n55), 81(n75)
Reformation, The, 112-113, 119, 143
Repeal Association (Ireland), 104,
American, 93, 100, 105, 106, 110,
Arab Spring, in Egypt, 144,175
Chinese, of 1911, 143
Chinese, communist, 99, 114, 163
Cuban, of 1959, 27,141,145-146,
176(n6), 179(nn54, 55, 56)
French, 99, 108, 111, 116, 139
Industrial, 102, 133(nl62)
Irish, 105-107, 112,118,139,140, 143,
145, 166, 169
Mexican, of 1910-1920, 99,117
Russian, of 1905,139, 146, 164,
Russian, of 1917, 99,112,139,143,
176(nll), 180(n67, 68)
revolution and revolutionaries (in
general), 90-92, 95,116-118,
Chapter Four (throughout), 181(n79),
revolutions, Spanish-American, 8, 143
robots, 63, 69, 85(nl20), 87(nl35), 175,
186(nl91), 198, 207(n44)
Rockefeller, John D., 80(n59)
Rome, ancient, and Roman Empire, 8,
30, 34(nn4, 12), 94, 195, 206(n32)
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 20-21, 77(n26),
Russell, Bertrand, 88(nl39)
Russell’s Paradox, 16, 35(n38)
Russia, 98, 108, 109,116, 136, 146,
183(nl08). See also Revolution,
Russian, of 1905; Russian, of 1917
Salinas de Gortari, Carlos, 117
Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus),
Santa Anna, Antonio Lopez de, 197
Scotland, 162, 163,166
self-prop(agating) system, 28, 29, Chapter
Two, Part II (throughout), 70-73,
84(nll5), 193,197-199, 203, 204
Sendler, Irena, 140
Shenzong (Shen-tsung, Chinese
Singularity, The, 74, 87(nnl32, 137)
Singularity University, 32, 73
Sinn Fein, 115,118,131-132(nnl32, 146)
Social Darwinism, 41, 42, 78(n34)
Social Democratic Party, German: 163,
169; Russian: 146, 151, 158, 164,
socialism, 84(nll4), 95, 99,107, 108,
Socialist Law of 1878 (Germany), 163
Social(ist) Revolutionaries (Russia), 139,
solar energy, 63, 66, 81(n75), 120
Solon, 10, 12
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, 41, 75(nl)
Song (Sung, Chinese dynasty), 22, 196
South Africa, 20,169,173
South America, 198
Soviet Union, 24, 96,109, 129-130(n99),
131(nl20), 176(nl4), 177(n23),
180(nn69, 71), 193, 200, 211
Spain, 8, 26, 38(n89), 85(nl21), 106,143,
Spanish America, 8, 15. See also
Latin America; South America;
spies and informers, 146, 169, 170
Sri Lanka, 34(nl8)
Stalin, Joseph, 23, 24, 95, 99, 112,156,
Standard Oil Company, 80(n59)
Stauffenberg, Claus, Graf Schenk von,
Stephens, James, 104, 105, 129(n94)
subprime loans, 194
Sulla, Lucius Cornelius, 8
sumptuary laws, 8
Sun, The, 58, 64, 66, 82(n82)
Sung (Chinese dynasty). See Song
surveillance, 174, 175, 186(nl85)
Sweden, 85(nl21), 212
Tacitus, Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius, 7,
techies, Chapter Two, Part V
(throughout), 83-84(nnl07, 113),
Technianity, 74, 87(nl35)
terrorism, 51, 105
thorium, 60, 80(n55)
tight coupling, 49, 50, 76(nll), 204
Tikopia, 203, 204
torture, resistance to, 140
tragedy of the commons. See commons,
problem or tragedy of
Transcendental Club, 114
transportation and communication, 46,
47, 49, 54, 56,133(nl60), 195,196,
203, 205(n23), 206(nn36, 37), 210,
Tresckow, Henning von, 38(n78)
Trotsky, Leon, 95, 112,125(n7),
127(n29), 130(nlll), 131(nl21), 147,
149, 150, 151,154,158,159,161,
162,165,169,171,176(nn9, 11, 12,
15,19), 180(nn61, 64, 67, 70, 72,
74, 77), 181(nn79, 80, 82, 93, 94),
182(nnl02, 105), 183(nnll0, 114,
Truman, Harry S., 20, 21
Turing test, 71, 86(nl23)
unemployment, 7, 71, 85(nl20), 144
United Kingdom, 129(n89), 166
United Nations, 12, 35(nnl9, 21)
uranium, 60, 64
Valera, Eamon de, 105, 106, 118
Venus, planet, 67
Wang Anshi (An-shih), 22
Washington, George, 177(n30)
Weber, Max, 77(n26)
Williams, Ted, 85(nl21)
wind turbines and wind energy, 60, 62,
world peace, 49,50, 51, 204
World War 1,10,137,143,146,158,164,
World War II, 139,140,141,151,
177-178(nn28, 29, 30, 31), 195,197,
Yeltsin, Boris, 109
Yuan (Chinese dynasty), 88(nl41)
Zhezong (Che-tsung, Chinese emperor),
Zwingli, Huldrych, 119
History Social Science
“ i here arc. mam people todav w ho see that modern
societc is heading tow ard disaster in one lot m oi
another, and who moreover recognize techno!
og\ as the common thread linking the principal
dangers that hang over us , , , f he purpose of this
hook is to sinew people how to begin thinking in
practical, grand strategic terms about w hat must
be done in order to net our soeiet\ of f the ioad to
destruction that it is now on.
from the Preface
l\S. \. SI6.00
I ITCH & M ADISON
I* l It I I S II I It s
\v u w. 1 i l c h in a tl i s o n . c o m
Iheodore John Kaczynski does not receive any remuneration tor this book.